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Members of the RCMP remove a protester from a pile of debris at an old-growth logging blockade near the Fairy Creek watershed on May 26, 2021.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

A federal review body that probes the RCMP will investigate a squad that enforces corporate injunctions against protesters in British Columbia after receiving hundreds of complaints of unlawful arrests, use of force and other allegations.

On Thursday, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) announced it has launched an investigation into the Mounties’ handling of years of protests against large-scale pipeline and logging projects at B.C. sites such as Fairy Creek, Salisbury Creek Forestry Road, and the Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.

The systemic review by the CRCC will look at the Mounties’ enforcement of judicial injunctions sought by companies against protesters accused of blocking industry.

“The CRCC has received hundreds of public complaints regarding the conduct of RCMP members toward various persons and groups protesting at sites in British Columbia,” said Kate McDerby, a spokeswoman for the complaints commission.

In an e-mail to The Globe, Ms. McDerby noted that “the complaints cover a wide range of topics including unlawful arrests, use of force, exclusion zones, access of journalists to protest sites, and other allegations.”

In a statement, Staff Sergeant Kris Clark, a B.C. RCMP spokesperson, said the force welcomes the investigation and has been working to ensure the office has “comprehensive access and a fulsome understanding” of policies, procedures, practices, guidelines, training and deployments of the response group.

The complaint-commission probe will place a special focus on what the B.C. RCMP calls its community-industry response group (C-IRG) including “whether or to what extent the activities and operations of the C-IRG are carried out in accordance with legal standards, policy requirements, and leading practices,” the review body’s chair, Michelaine Lahaie, said in a statement.

While the CRCC frequently probes complaints from individuals about the Mounties, it launches systemic investigations much more rarely. The RCMP review body has completed five such reviews since it got the legislated powers to conduct these probes in 2015. The past reports have delved into RCMP workplace harassment, crime-reduction units, strip search policies, police use of street checks and the Mounties’ internal policies against racial profiling.

This month, lawyers representing two journalists announced they were suing the federal government for the RCMP’s handling of the B.C. protests. In a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court they alleged that the federally run Mounties have chilled media coverage by imposing no-go zones and by making hundreds of arbitrary arrests.

“The RCMP’s community-industry response group was the primary unit responsible for enforcement operations,” reads the lawsuit, which accuses the police force of resorting to unlawful “catch-and-release” policies against protesters.

In past statements the B.C. RCMP has described its community-industry response group as a law-abiding unit created in 2017 to use “a measured approach in facilitating the peaceful resolution of public disorder issues.”

Ms. McDerby said the CRCC has been unable to reach conclusions about the vast majority of nearly 500 public complaints it has received about the RCMP’s activities at the B.C. sites.

The other factors the commission says it will be considering are whether the unit’s operations and actions reflect the federal and B.C. government’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Systemic reviews allow the complaints commission to study the broader issues behind recurring police controversies. The CRCC releases its findings to the RCMP’s leadership and to provincial public safety ministers and then makes the documents public.

Systemic reviews usually take between one and two years, Ms. McDerby said.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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