B.C.’s police complaint watchdog is opening an investigation into a confrontation between officers and Trans Mountain pipeline protesters occupying the downtown Vancouver offices of an insurance giant backing the infrastructure expansion.
The Vancouver Police Department had started its own probe of how officers broke up the sit-in Friday at the AIG Insurance Company of Canada’s downtown office, which ended with four people being arrested for mischief and obstruction.
Andrea Spindler, British Columbia’s deputy police complaint commissioner, told The Globe and Mail that the VPD may continue with its review or another municipal department may take over the investigation, but a civilian analyst from the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner will be actively involved.
“The Commissioner has already made the decision, based on the limited information that we have received, that there needs to be an investigation,” said Ms. Spindler, whose agency monitors police conduct, but not to the criminal standard of the Independent Investigations Office.
Under provincial law, OPCC investigations must be done within six months, but roughly a third of cases were granted time extensions last fiscal year, she said. During that same period, about 24 per cent of all misconduct allegations were substantiated, she said.
Ms. Spindler said she did not yet know how many officers might be subject to this review.
The protesters, led by a group of Indigenous youth called Braided Warriors, issued a statement Monday alleging their peaceful demonstration was broken up aggressively by the VPD. Their statement published the badge numbers of five officers they allege acted improperly.
“We were violently thrown to the ground, dragged across floors and down stairways, pulled by the hair and braid, thrown to a surface covered in glass, strangled in a chokehold, or dragged face down on concrete,” the statement alleged. “Our ceremonial items including drums, abalone shells, feathers, and red dresses to remember MMIW [Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women] were desecrated, thrown, stepped on, and broken.”
The statement also alleges some of those arrested were not given immediate medical attention for their injuries.
The group had also temporarily occupied the office tower complex Wednesday and Thursday as part of its campaign to get insurers to end their support for the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which terminates in neighbouring Burnaby.
Vancouver police spokesperson Sergeant Steve Addison said protesters dispersed peacefully when asked the previous two days. But the demonstrators refused to negotiate when officers attempted to clear a path through the office tower’s barricaded front entrance on Friday, he said.
Extra officers were brought in, Sgt. Addison’s statement said, when several protesters “became physically and verbally confrontational with police.” He added that a video circulating on social media that shows one police officer grabbing the hair of a protester only shows part of Friday’s interactions.
The four people arrested were released on a promise to appear in court on May 19 and the VPD is forwarding a recommendation to Crown counsel that they be charged, Sgt. Addison stated.
“Vancouver Police prepare for and monitor hundreds of protests each year,” his statement said. “We strive to provide an environment conducive to lawful and peaceful protest, and public safety is always our top priority.”
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