Looking through the trees to a lake and mountains

RCMP handling of Argenta arrests draws joint policy complaint

Editor’s note: There have been many complaints about the RCMP Community-Industry Response Group, particularly in regard to police brutality, racism, their use of exclusion zones and attempting to muzzle the press. According to the account in the Narwhal, a 75 year-old Argenta resident delivering eggs to the protesters was arrested as she attempted to leave. The camp’s legal observer was also among the 17 people arrested. 20 of the 35 protesters were residents of Argenta and Johnson’s Landing, a handful were veterans of the Fairy Creek protests.

By Timothy Schafer, The Nelson Daily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A joint policy complaint has been filed by seven groups against the RCMP for the handling of the arrests made at the May 17 logging protest near Argenta.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and six other groups submitted the complaint on July 21 against the RMCP’s Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) for alleged “egregious behaviour and unlawful arrests” made at a protest area at Argenta-Johnson’s Landing.

Noah Ross — a Denman Island-based lawyer — filed the complaint with the chairperson of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP in Ottawa, on behalf of the Argenta arrestees.

As legal counsel for complainants, Ross said the police actions on May 17 were a “substantial” breach of constitutional rights.

“We have filed this complaint to hold the C-IRG Unit of the RCMP accountable for their conduct at Argenta on May 17,” Ross said in a statement on the B.C. Civil Liberties Association website on Thursday (see below for link to story).

“The C-IRG appears to have made a series of unlawful arrests and implemented an overbroad exclusion zone, resulting in substantial breaches of constitutional rights, including freedom of expression and freedom against arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Ross said written statements in the policy complaint show protestors did not breach a court injunction from 2019, and “attest to arbitrary arrests and detentions and the C-IRG unit refusing to allow many individuals to leave the Grouse Camp site without being arrested.”

The move by the RCMP drew criticism from several legal groups, including the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada.

The RCMP’s duty is to protect not criminalize, the “democratic right to participate in public affairs through peaceful protests to oppose potentially harmful government decisions and corporate activities,” said Gail Davidson, director of the Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, in a statement.

“Prophylactic arrests to prevent inconvenience are a grave violation of essential rights — to liberty, expression, public debate, assembly and participation in public affairs and human rights advocacy — that must be censured and prevented.”

Circumstances surrounding the complaint occurred when police entered the Grouse Camp — a protest camp and soft blockade — and established two exclusion zones, followed by 18 arrests, on May 17 near Argenta-Johnson’s Landing.

The RCMP based the arrests on charges of contempt of an August 2019 court injunction known as the “2019 Salisbury Injunction.” That injunction barred anyone from preventing Cooper Creek Cedar Ltd.’s industrial logging operations from occurring in the Salisbury Creek area.

Three weeks before the arrests were made the protest camp was set up by Last Stand West Kootenay, with the support of the Indigenous group Autonomous Sinixt, in opposition of logging in the area between Kootenay Lake and the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy by Cooper Creek.

Info links

– B.C. Civil Liberties story: https://bccla.org/news/2022/07/civil-liberties-group-files-joint-complaint-against-rcmp-community-industry-response-group-for-behaviour-and-unlawful-arrests-during-raid-of-argenta-protest-area/

– Complaint document: https://bit.ly/3olr1j0.

Top image credit: View of Kootenay Lake and the forest near Argenta BC – Photo by Mari Smith via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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