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Members of the RCMP stand ready at a logging road at an old-growth logging blockade near the Fairy Creek watershed on May 26, 2021.Jesse Winter/The Globe and Mail

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who has recently faced criticism over her force’s arrests of people protesting the Coastal GasLink pipeline and old-growth logging, says police have no choice but to enforce court injunctions against demonstrators.

“Our job is to enforce them whenever they are in front of us,” Commissioner Lucki said in an interview on Friday, noting that people have the right to protest and be reported on by the news media.

“They have the right to have their voices heard, and journalists have the right – they should be reporting on that,” she said. “All of that has to be done safely.”

“When it comes to protests, enforcement is our last option.”

Protesters and some media outlets criticized the RCMP after the force’s arrests, on Nov. 19, of photojournalist Amber Bracken and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano. The two were on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia, where they were covering efforts by Indigenous protesters to halt construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.

RCMP officers were enforcing a court injunction that prohibits interference with the project’s construction activities, including by protesters. Ms. Bracken and Mr. Toledano were among 15 people taken into custody that day.

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Court releases two journalists three days after arrests by RCMP at Wet’suwet’en pipeline protests

The RCMP have also been widely criticized for their arrests, last year, of hundreds of anti-logging protesters who were blockading roads in the Fairy Creek old-growth rain forest area of southern Vancouver Island. In those cases, officers were enforcing an injunction against the blockades.

Commissioner Lucki said the RCMP are interested in working with both protesters and journalists to allow them to fulfill their roles.

These environmental disputes have been just some of the many fraught political issues in which Commissioner Lucki has become embroiled since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed her as leader of the RCMP in March, 2018. She is the first woman to serve in the role.

She faced criticism and calls to resign, including from Indigenous leaders, after she said in a series of interviews in June, 2020, that she was struggling to understand what is meant by the term “systemic racism.”

“I think that if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don’t have systemic racism,” she told The Globe and Mail at the time.

Commissioner Lucki later issued a statement in which she acknowledged that racism does exist within the RCMP, and that she should have definitively said so. Mr. Trudeau said he remained confident in her leadership.

On Friday, Commissioner Lucki told The Globe the force is working to combat systemic racism in its ranks.

“Throughout our organization, we have to make sure we review everything that we do to eliminate systemic racism,” she said.

For example, she said, the force has been making efforts to eliminate barriers that would stop diverse populations from seeking careers in the RCMP. She referenced a pilot recruiting project under way in Nunavut. And she said the force is reviewing all of its policies, procedures and training measures with equity in mind.

Commissioner Lucki said systemic racism exists in every organization, and that policing is not immune to this problem. She said this is why she will do everything in her power to ensure that systemic barriers are eliminated.

As for the calls to resign, Commissioner Lucki said she is not going anywhere. She noted that she has worked in policing for more than three decades. “If I gave up, or resigned, or quit every time, well, I never would have become commissioner,” she said.

Asked about efforts by Alberta and Surrey, B.C., to end their contracts with the RCMP and set up independent police forces, Commissioner Lucki said she has no problem with consumers of RCMP policing looking at other options.

“They should review their policing services to make sure that we’re meeting their expectations and responding to their priorities. So we welcome the fact they are reviewing that, and, of course, I am a bit biased.”

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