A coalition of groups have filed a formal complaint against the RCMP for alleged police misconduct during the logging protest arrests near Argenta on May 17.
Last Stand West Kootenay, the Autonomous Sinixt, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, The Wilderness Committee, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, Mount Willet Wilderness Forever, From the Heart Kootenays and Fridays for Future Nelson filed the complaint on July 21.
The RCMP action took place on the Salisbury Creek forest road near Argenta as the timber company Cooper Creek Cedar was attempting to begin logging in a forest known as the Argenta-Johnsons Landing Face. The group Last Stand West Kootenay had set up a camp at the base of the logging road.
The RCMP were enforcing a court injunction issued in 2019 during a protest at the same location. The injunction prohibits anyone from interfering with Cooper Creek Cedar’s logging operations in the Salisbury Creek area, and it prohibits restricting or impeding the passage of the company’s employees or contractors.
The complaint alleges that the RCMP went beyond the terms of the injunction, and arrested people who were not impeding traffic and who were not standing on the road. The complaint document contains personal statements from people who said they were arrested in this way. For example, a 75-year-old resident of Argenta said she was arrested, and later released, while attempting to deliver food to the camp.
Nineteen of the arrested people still face a court hearing, charged with civil contempt of court for breaching the injunction.
The complaint document refers to these arrests as “a gratuitous show of RCMP aggression which clearly extends beyond the scope of authority given to the RCMP to enforce the 2019 Salisbury Injunction.”
The complaint document can be found at https://bit.ly/3olr1j0.
It states that the arrests were a violation of the rights of freedom of assembly, free expression, liberty, and freedom from arbitrary arrest under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“It appears to us that the mass arrests of individuals who were not breaching the 2019 Salisbury Injunction were unlawfully carried out as an intimidation tactic to clear the camp and dissuade further lawful protests to express community opposition to Cooper Creek Cedar’s logging,” the complaint document states.
A second subject of the complaint is the RCMP’s use of exclusion zones – checkpoints beyond which no one, even the general public, was allowed to pass. One of these was at the base of the Salisbury Creek forest road and another was located 10 kilometres away on Duncan Lake Road. These excluded the public and the media from coming near the arrest zone.
The complaint document refers to the exclusion zones as a violation of the Charter, and it points out that in 2021, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Thompson, in a court proceeding related to the Fairy Creek protests on Vancouver Island, declared such exclusion zones unlawful.
The complaint process
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP is an agency of the federal government, independent from the RCMP.
However, in the first stage of the process, complaints to the commission are not investigated by the commission but by the RCMP itself. (In some cases, if the commission chairperson is of the opinion that it would be in the public interest for the commission to investigate a complaint instead of the RCMP, the commission will conduct a Public Interest Investigation.)
If a complainant is not satisfied with the RCMP’s handling of their complaint, they can request that the commission conduct a review of the RCMP’s investigation.
If the commission investigates and is satisfied with the RCMP’s handling of the complaint, it will issue a report, ending the review process.
If the commission is not satisfied, it will issue an interim report of its findings and recommendations. The interim report will be reviewed by the RCMP, which must identify which recommendations it will act on. If it does not intend to act on a recommendation, the RCMP must provide reasons.
Then the commission prepares a final report, which goes to the federal Minister of Public Safety.