An NDP member of Parliament is calling for an investigation into RCMP actions at Fairy Creek after videos showing police using pepper spray on a crowd of protesters were shared online over the weekend.
Jack Harris, the New Democrat critic for public safety and emergency preparedness, called on Bill Blair, the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, to initiate a “full and independent investigation into RCMP actions at Fairy Creek.”
In the letter, dated Sunday, Harris says “it’s clear” more civilian oversight of the RCMP is needed, along with reviews of use-of-force incidents and the National Use of Force Framework.
“It is unacceptable that RCMP officers appear to be using excessive force against protesters in the area, which I fear will lead to an escalation in tensions and possible violence,” he wrote.
One seven-minute clip posted on YouTube shows police using multiple canisters of pepper spray on a group of about 60 protesters who had locked arms and refused orders to disperse at an industry gate at Pacific Marine and Gordon Main logging roads. Protesters scream while officers pull individuals away from the group and to the ground.
Rylee MacKenzie was just off to the side during the pepper spray incident on Saturday and helped those who had been sprayed. People were crying and clawing at their faces, MacKenzie said.
MacKenzie said it took more than 20 bottles of water to help ease one person’s pain.
“Their head was on my lap, and I just like, I cannot get this picture out, and the sounds out, of just hearing their blood-curdling scream while they’re convulsing from the pain,” MacKenzie said.
Protesters say RCMP officers are escalating their use of force as the blockades continue into a second year.
Kathy Code, a spokeswoman for the Rainforest Flying Squad, a grassroots group behind the blockades, said police have been using “more brutal tactics” during the past month. She said she has seen videos and received reports of people being carried by police and dropped on their heads and people who have fallen from tripod structures made out of trees when police attempt to remove them.
“We’ve had people with severe injuries and concussions who have had to go to hospital. Severely sprained ankles, dislocated shoulders,” she said.
Sgt. Chris Manseau, a media relations officer for B.C. RCMP, said officers continue to take a slow, measured approach to enforcement of an injunction against interfering with logging, and the videos shared over the weekend don’t show what happened before the pepper spray came out.
“There was some pushing and shoving from protesters pushing the police, and a police officer was actually knocked over, hit the ground, struck their head and knocked unconscious. And they had to be helicoptered out of the area,” Manseau said. “And the only way to get the crowd to listen to direction was to deploy the OC [pepper] spray.”
MacKenzie said the group had gathered around some people who were chaining themselves to a road block to prevent police from reaching them.
MacKenzie said officers tried to take someone from the group, and they responded by moving towards officers as one, while some yelled at others to stop. That’s when an officer lost his balance, and fell backwards into a concrete structure, they said.
Manseau said he’s concerned protesters are putting themselves in danger with the obstacles they create to slow down enforcement, with many sitting high above the ground on tripod structures made of trees, or locking themselves together in deep trenches they’ve dug.
“My main priority is to maintain safety of everyone. Protesters, the public and the police who are out there. … I just don’t want anybody injured,” he said.
Code maintained that the only danger to protesters comes when police are involved.
“When they start chainsawing at the legs of the tripod and make it uneven, and the tripod sitter falls, well yeah, that’s the RCMP putting them in danger,” she said. “They only fall out when the RCMP interfere with the structure.”
Manseau said he has woken up the last several days to a full voicemail box of angry messages and personal threats since social media posts urged people to call and email him about police actions at the protests.
“Somebody even left a message saying that they hope that I went to prison because sometimes the things that happen to police officers in prison are terrible and I deserve everything that comes to me,” he said.
Opponents to old-growth logging held protests Monday outside about a dozen RCMP detachments across the province and in Toronto.
During a press conference Monday, Premier John Horgan said he would like to see the confrontation come to an end.
“Law enforcement doesn’t take direction from government,” he said.
“They make their choices based on how the courts direct them and they’ve been directed to enforce the injunction,” he said.
The RCMP had arrested 740 people as of Saturday while enforcing a court injunction to clear the way for Teal Jones Group, which has logging rights in the blockaded area.