RCMP violated anti-pipeline protesters’ rights: watchdog
The RCMP watchdog has uncovered shortcomings with the national force’s crowd-control measures, physical searches and collection of social media information while policing anti-fracking protests in New Brunswick.
In a long-awaited report issued Thursday, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP chastises the Mounties for their reluctance to take action on some of the findings and recommendations.
The commission received 21 public complaints related to the RCMP’s management of protests in 2013 over shale-gas exploration by SWN Resources Canada near the town of Rexton and the Elsipogtog First Nation reserve in Kent County, as well as in various other parts of the province.
The report notes that a primary motivation for Indigenous protesters opposing the actions of SWN was their dedication to protecting land and water they considered their own, unceded to the Crown through treaty or other agreement.
A court-issued injunction limited protests and despite some progress through negotiations between the RCMP and demonstrators, the Mounties cleared an encampment on Oct. 17, 2013, sparking a melee and numerous arrests.
After reviewing the complaints and materials disclosed by the RCMP, the commission then initiated its own investigation in December 2014 to examine the issues more broadly.
The commission found considerable evidence that RCMP members “understood and applied a measured approach” in planning their operations and while interacting with protesters.
However, it also found some distressing problems.
“Several incidents or practices interfered to varying degrees with the protesters’ rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” the commission concluded.
It stressed that police may only establish “buffer zones” within parameters set by the courts. “As such, decisions to restrict access to public roadways or sites must be specific, reasonable and limited to minimize the impact on people’s rights.”
The commission also found that some of the RCMP’s surveillance practices and physical searches were “inconsistent with protesters’ charter rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.”
For example, in conducting “stop checks,” RCMP members randomly stopped vehicles for a purpose other than those set out in provincial highway traffic legislation, the report says.
“Likewise, while unconfirmed reports about the presence of weapons raised a legitimate public safety concern, searching persons entering the protesters’ campsite was inconsistent with the individuals’ charter rights.”
The commission found that RCMP policy did not provide clear guidance on handling personal information obtained from social media or other open sources, particularly in situations where no criminal activity was involved.
The watchdog recommended that RCMP policy describe what personal information from social media sites can be gathered, how it can be used, what steps should be taken to verify its reliability and limits on how long it can be kept.
It urges the RCMP to destroy such material once it is clear there is no criminal or national-security dimension.