One month after a group of dissidents derailed a B.C. first nation's treaty ratification vote by erecting a blockade outside the primary polling station, the RCMP says it will make arrests if there's a repeat performance.
The Sliammon First Nation – which has its main reserve in the Sunshine Coast community of Powell River – has been working toward the treaty since 1994. A final agreement that, among other things, contains provisions for self-government, was initialled by the first nation and the provincial and federal governments in October. The ratification vote was originally set for June 16.
On the day of the vote, however, about a dozen band members blocked the polling station – a gymnasium – with their vehicles. Both the first nation's chief and B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak were critical of the RCMP's response – or lack thereof. Police did not make any arrests and the vote had to be rescheduled.
The first nation turned to the B.C. Supreme Court and received an injunction prohibiting anyone from blocking the polling station's entrance. The order also authorized police to arrest and remove anyone who contravened it.
With band members again set to vote Tuesday, RCMP Superintendent Paul Richards said Mounties are hoping they won't have to make arrests, but will, if necessary.
"Certainly, we'll use the range of powers [in the injunction]. It's important that people understand that if they violate a legal order given by a judge, a civil injunction, that that injunction provides peace officers with the power to arrest and detain individuals for contempt of court," Supt. Richards, of the E Division in Vancouver, said in an interview.
Supt. Richards said RCMP will have "the correct resources" on scene Tuesday, though he declined to provide specifics.
Clint Williams, chief of the Sliammon First Nation (also known as the Tla'amin Nation), said last month that he could not fathom RCMP sitting back while a polling station for a municipal, provincial, or federal election was blocked. Supt. Richards said the force wanted to be respectful when it came to first nations issues, particularly those involving a treaty.
On Monday, the vote again looked like it might be in jeopardy. Those opposed to the treaty went to B.C. Supreme Court for an injunction of their own, alleging problems with the voting process. Lawyer Katherine Hensel, representing Protectors of Sliammon Sovereignty, said some people were allowed to fill out ballots without providing proper identification, and others complained of bribes. Ms. Hensel cautioned that allowing the vote to go ahead would cause "irreparable harm."
Gregory McDade, counsel for the Sliammon Treaty Society, disagreed. Mr. McDade said the rules put in place were "state of the art" and said opponents were pointing to voting irregularities simply to have the referendum put off.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice John E.D. Savage said there was no evidence the process that was put in place was flawed.
Brandon Peters, a member of Protectors of Sliammon Sovereignty, said he will vote "no" Tuesday. He expects the "yes" side to win. Mr. Peters, who said he might well switch bands, said he will not participate in further blockades or protests.
Chief Williams said he didn't know if there would be trouble this time around. He said the RCMP has told him if anyone is threatening or intimidating, they will be removed immediately.
Chief Williams said he plans to vote in person because he wants to make a statement.
The Sliammon First Nation has about 1,000 members in all. Some votes have already been tabulated. About 250 ballots still need to be submitted.
In addition to provisions for self-government, the treaty also provides the band with more than 8,300 hectares of land, and a capital transfer of nearly $30-million over 10 years.