The RCMP has been all over the news this week.
Much has been said about the current RCMP Commissioner’s leadership (or lack thereof) dealing with the Trucker’s convoy and the mass shooting in Nova Scotia.
But concerns about RCMP action go beyond the conflicts back east.
This week, two local events stand out. Both should have all Islanders asking hard questions – and getting some accountability back.
On the South Island, news leaked that a police officer quit his task force over “unjustifiable” RCMP tactics being used against Fairy Creek protestors.
On North Isle, the case of Jared Lowndes is back in the spotlight. Remember Lowndes, the First Nations man shot to death in Timmie’s parking lot in Campbell River. The Independent Investigations Office–a civilian-led police oversight agency that investigates deaths caused by police–is urging the crown to pursue charges against three officers involved in Lowndes’ death.
Both Island cases are once again in the news spotlight because “officials” are confirming what so many others have been saying about RCMP’s excessive force for years.
It’s a subject we don’t talk about enough.
Here’s a recap of both stories.
Fairy Creek Protests
Recently public documents raise the question: How badly do police have to act for other officers to quit because of it?
It turns out, Awful.
Canada’s National Observer journalist Jen Osborne obtained documents from a Freedom of Information request that revealed an awful lot about the protests. It included a resignation letter from an unnamed RCMP officer.
The officer quit the RCMP’s controversial Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) following what he described as “unjustifiable” actions taken by police officers in the task force against peaceful protestors at Fairy Creek.
In the email, he alleges officers abused both protestors and their belongings. He detailed officers engaging in everything from smashing the windows of parked vehicles, seizing and throwing out protestors’ belongings, and aggressively and inappropriately handling protestors who displayed no aggression.
“In my 12-plus years of service, I have never done this. I’m afraid I have to disagree this was necessary,” the officer wrote in his report.
“I saw enough to know that I did not want to be involved, and actions were certainly a departure from what we practise at our home detachments.”
He also wrote about being directed to release protestors arrested without charges but to drop them off in areas that would be difficult for them to leave. For example, rather than transporting them to nearby Port Renfrew, they were directed to take them to Lake Cowichan, about an hour’s drive away.
“The reasoning was to make it harder and more inconvenient for them to return than simply taking them out of the injunction area,” the officer wrote.
“Holding someone in custody to make things more inconvenient and driving them down the highway when they are to be released without charges is not justifiable.”
He claims officers weren’t acting as neutral peacekeepers, but more like security for the logging company. He wrote about officers socializing inappropriately with Teal Cedar workers and the logging company’s private security force.
“Jokes and stories about ‘fucking hippies’ and how much they stink were common.”
The biases also affected how the protection RCMP officers provided protestors.
The officer said he witnessed protesters approach police three times to report threats by an industry worker, pointing out they had video proof and were concerned that the alleged offender was still in the area.
But instead of addressing the threats, the RCMP officers told protestors to make a report at the nearest police detachment, which was an hour away.
The failure to protect lives brings us to another recent case in the news.
The facts surrounding Lowndes’ being shot and killed by the RCMP in Tim Horton’s parking lot last year are disturbing.
Reportedly, the RCMP officers initiated the confrontation with Lourdes to secure a DNA sample over a conditional order for an alleged past offence from eight years prior.
In the years since the order was made, Lourdes had sobered up, become a loving father and provided for his family.
According to witnesses, RCMP officers initially tried to detain Lourdes by crashing two cop cars into Lowndes’ car while he was parked outside Timmies.
After the police boxed in Lowndes’s car, “Gator,” the RCMP police dog jumped in through his car window to attack Lowndes and his puppy, who was also in the vehicle. Lowndes fought back, using a pocket knife to stab Gator; the dog handler also received a knife wound.
Lowndes was then shot to death. He was allegedly shot six times, a minimum of three times in the chest and at least once in the head (the shirt he was wearing had three bullet holes, and the mask he was wearing had one as well).
Shooting someone six times while they are still trapped in a car with only a knife seems like an extreme reaction for even a scared civilian – let alone a trained officer.
Now, over a year after the shooting, the civilian-led Independent Investigations Office has come to the same conclusion.
They’encouraging the Crown Prosecutor to consider charges against three officers involved in the killing.
“Reasonable grounds exist to believe that three officers may have committed offences in relation to various uses of force,” reads their press release.
The Independent Investigations Office won’t release more details of the shooting to avoid prejudicing a potential jury.
While the shooting is suspicious, what occurred after Lourdes’s death is just as disturbing.
Unlike the notorious George Floyd police-caused deaths in the U.S., there was little local outrage over Lourde’s death. Instead, locals, and the RCMP, displayed more remorse over the death of “Gator,” the police dog who died while attacking Lourdes, than over suspicious Lourdes’s shooting.
Last March, when Lourdes’s mother organized a protest to raise the profile of the shooting, the RCMP press release showed no remorse for the shooting. Instead, the primary purpose of the press release seemed to be to ask the public for potential dirt they could use to arrest the marchers.
“The Campbell River RCMP would like to thank the public for their patience & support relating to the demonstration. In addition to the many expressed condolences for PSD Gator.”
Not one word of condolence to Jared Lowndes’s mother, Martha Martin, or others who protested losing their children to police shootings.
Unfortunately, these aren’t the only examples of excess force.
“It is time for police officers to be held accountable for the unnecessary use of force.” said a release from the Pivot Legal Society. “In the 16 months since Jared’s death, there have been 74 reported incidents of in-custody deaths in B.C. alone.”
As Pivot Legal points out, excess police force is happening way too often.
Policing protests is hard, but keeping the peace, and protecting lives, is supposed to be the whole purpose of the RCMP–and local police forces.
It’s tough work. However, when police go too far, they must be held accountable.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the current rules are working to prevent unnecessary violence.