This month marks one year since the RCMP’s civilian watchdog, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, launched an investigation into C-IRG. The RCMP’s Community Industry Response Unit (C-IRG) was created to police Indigenous peoples like me who protest against exploitative oil and gas projects on our territory.

The review is investigating whether C-IRG’s operations and activities respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Last month, audio recordings of C-IRG brutality were played in a British Columbia courtroom, including audio of the RCMP ridiculing Indigenous women wearing red handprints to symbolize our missing and murdered. They called us “ogres.” They taunted men for responding to pain when beaten. On the stand, RCMP Superintendent James Elliott agreed that the C-IRG officer’s behaviour violated Indigenous land defender’s charter rights.

Yet, the unit was not suspended during the systemic review nor will any public hearings be held. It’s been over a year and we have heard nothing, though this is no surprise, and our expectations are not high. The RCMP was created to control Indigenous peoples, and remove us from our home lands. C-IRG is a new tool that enables this legacy of racist discrimination to continue to this day. It’s long overdue to abolish C-IRG.

Chief Na’Moks, Hereditary Chief of the Wet’suwet’en. Photo via Greenpeace

The landmark 1997 Delgamuukw-Gisday’Wa Supreme Court decision recognized that the Wet’suwet’en people never gave up title to 22,000 square kilometers of land in British Columbia, and that Wet’suwet’en Hereditary chiefs – all five Clans of the Wet’suwet’en opposed the Coastal Gas Link fracked gas pipeline – are the rightful representatives of the Wet’suwet’en title holding collective. Despite this, Wet’suwet’en people resisting the illegal construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on our unceded territory have been battered by C-IRG’s campaign of intimidation, surveillance, violence, and overt racism.

The failure of the governments to deal with our rights and title has turned our assertions of jurisdiction into a security issue. Governments authorize development on our lands without our consent. When companies cannot build their projects, they go to the courts to get injunctions against us.  

But, a bombshell 2019 study by the Yellowhead Institute revealed a startling imbalance. Canadian courts granted 81 per cent filed by corporations against First Nations. The same courts granted only 19 per cent filed by First Nations against corporations – hardly an even playing field.

As David Gray-Donald writes, injunction law lets judges consider cases in a vacuum, where the oil and gas industry is viewed as having suffered “irreparable harm” if a project doesn’t proceed quickly, while harm to Indigenous life, land, and culture is swept aside.

The same governments that approved the creation of C-IRG, and continue to fund its expansion, also claim that their hands are tied due to the injunctions. But it’s all funded by taxpayer dollars. C-IRG spent $49.9 million of taxpayer funds between 2017 to July 2023 trying to squash protests over Coastal Gas Link, Trans Mountain pipeline, and Fairy Creek. In one year alone $11 million was spent patrolling a road on Wet’suwet’en territory. Ballooning costs and an investigation into human rights violations weren’t enough to deter the B.C. government from handing C-IRG another $36 million in taxpayer funds.

In 2019, the Guardian obtained notes from a strategy session for a militarised raid on Wet’suwet’en territory that showed the RCMP were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders.

C-IRG’s mistreatment of Indigenous peoples is a blight on Canada’s international reputation. Amnesty International documented C-IRG’s intimidation and harassment of unarmed Indigenous land defenders. In 2022, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued its third rebuke to BC and Canada over escalating force and intimidation against Wet’suwet’en land defenders, and demanded C-IRG’s immediate withdrawal from our unceded territory. The UN committee was once again ignored.

C-IRG is getting a shiny new name –  the Critical Response Unit (CRU). Rebranding won’t hide the fact that politicians’ lofty speeches on reconciliation will continue to ring hollow as long as the RCMP are allowed to harass and intimidate our peoples on behalf of greedy oil and gas companies that want to destroy our land.

This week, I’ll be in Vienna during the European Gas Conference. As gas executives meet, I’ll be sounding the alarm to ensure Europeans know that Canadian gas, British Columbia gas, is not clean or ethical. It’s awash with violence and the state-sanctioned trampling of Indigenous rights.

Chief Na’moks (John Risdale), Tsayu Clan, Wet’suwet’en Nation