Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to address the ongoing protests in relation to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project and the Wet'suwet'en First Nation.
Our government is committed to a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. The RCMP is also committed to reconciliation with indigenous peoples based on cultural awareness and humility, shared history, collaboration, communication and empathy. Many of the RCMP's current reconciliation initiatives are taking place within continued relationship-building efforts.
It is important to note that Canada's police services, including the RCMP, act independently of all levels of government. They are mandated with protecting the public and enforcing applicable laws, including the Criminal Code of Canada. The concept of police independence requires that police officers be free from political direction or influence in carrying out law enforcement functions and making operational decisions.
As outlined by the Supreme Court, police independence underpins the rule of law. This has been upheld by the APEC inquiry which ruled that when the RCMP is performing law enforcement functions, it is entirely independent of the federal government and answerable to the law and courts. As well, the Ipperwash inquiry report noted that police independence is a safeguard against powers being used for political ends. In 2015 the member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, when he was the Conservative public safety minister, said the government needs to respect the operational independence of the RCMP. Even former prime minister Stephen Harper weighed in on the issue. He said, “The RCMP has an investigative process. The government does not interfere in that process. We put our complete trust in the RCMP to handle this investigation." I am surprised that some members still do not fully understand that premise.
Decisions are made by police based on individual circumstances and should continue to do so without political interference. The primary role of police in any demonstration or assembly is to preserve the peace, protect life and property, and enforce the law. All Canadians have fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. However, individuals who choose to use these rights must do so in accordance with the law. In some cases, in various types of civil protest, the RCMP's increased involvement is necessary as part of the effort to maintain peace and order and to uphold the law.
The dispute over the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline remains an issue under the purview of the Province of British Columbia and not the federal government. As the police of jurisdiction in British Columbia, the RCMP can be lawfully mandated to implement enforcement clauses of injunction orders. These orders may be obtained in the courts by resource companies in their efforts to gain unfettered access to areas being restricted and/or impeded by protesters.
Police must abide by conditions set out in any given court injunction. They can, however, exercise police discretion in special instances, such as adopting a delay to enforcement while reasonable efforts are made to achieve peaceful outcomes. When implementing the enforcement clauses of court injunctions, the RCMP employs a measured approach that facilitates lawful, peaceful and safe protest in an environment that is safe for protesters and members of the public. Police also undertake proactive engagement to maintain the peace or to facilitate the resolution of public disorder and the restoration of the peace. The approach preserves traditional policing options and respects the lawful exercise of personal rights and freedoms.
In relation to Coastal GasLink, significant efforts were made by the RCMP to facilitate dialogue between all stakeholders over the course of this past year. The RCMP continues to be in regular communication with all stakeholders to maintain regular discussions toward a peaceful resolution. The RCMP commanding officer in British Columbia remains in direct contact with the hereditary and elected chiefs and councils to discuss their concerns.
The RCMP has always maintained its preference for peaceful options requiring no, or minimal, use of force. This includes an emphasis on voluntary peaceful arrests with no force being used and no handcuffs being employed.
During enforcement activities, the level of intervention was applied in the context of a careful assessment of risk, taking into account the likelihood and extent of injury and damage to property as a result of the intervention.
Members of the RCMP are trained to assess situations and respond appropriately. Every effort was, and continues to be, made by the RCMP to ensure lines of communication remain open among all stakeholders, including the Wet'suwet'en elected council members and the hereditary chiefs, Coastal GasLink and provincial and federal government representatives.
The RCMP's major enforcement operations have concluded. The Morice West Forest Service Road has since been reopened for access to Coastal GasLink construction teams, members of the Wet'suwet'en community and members of the public. The enforcement actions resulted in a number of arrests with no injuries to protesters or the officers involved.
Regardless of where any individual stands on this issue, there is a common concern for everyone's safety. There are ways for safe, peaceful and lawful discourse or dissent to take place without any risk to public safety. An RCMP presence in the area remains for the purpose of maintaining peace and order as the situation persists.
As the police of jurisdiction, it would be neither appropriate nor feasible for the RCMP to leave the area entirely. However, the RCMP will continuously review the situation.
In relation to further anticipated protests on site in Wet'suwet'en territory, and protests in support of the Wet'suwet'en that have begun to emerge across the country, the RCMP will be responding where it is the police force of jurisdiction, in collaboration with other police services as appropriate to ensure the safety and security of all individuals at these various protests.
Everyone has the right of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. The general public, local residents and businesses also have the right to a safe environment. The RCMP will continue to strive to uphold public and officer safety and enforce the law, maintaining a balance with rights and freedoms. The RCMP will also continue to collaborate with indigenous communities, representative organizations and advisory groups to further build on reconciliation efforts and strengthen trust and relationships.
All communities should benefit from policing that is professional and dedicated, and indigenous communities are no exception. That is why we will co-develop a legislative framework for first nations policing and expand the number of communities served by the first nations policing program. We will ensure police officers and services have the necessary tools and resources to protect the vulnerable and increase community safety.
These commitments build upon the investments of up to $291.2 million over five years made in 2018 by our government for the first nations policing program to improve officer safety, equipment and salaries, and to hire additional officers.
We heard there is a need for more transformative changes in the way first nations and Inuit policing is supported in this country. We will develop and co-develop a legislative framework for first nations policing, which recognizes it as an essential service.
In closing, I would like to thank members for their time and the opportunity to speak on this issue.