RCMP Spent Record Amount to Protect CGL Pipeline Last Year

Amanda Follett Hosgood
The RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group is a regular presence on Wet’suwet’en territory. The unit racked up more than $11 million in expenses for policing the area last fiscal year. Photo by Amanda Follett Hosgood.

Sept. 11, 2023

The force spent $11 million to patrol a remote road in Wet’suwet’en territory.

The RCMP’s costs for patrolling a remote resource road on Wet’suwet’en territory to protect a pipeline project rose almost 60 per cent last year to $11 million, despite no significant police actions in the area.

Documents obtained by The Tyee through access to information laws show that spending to police the Morice Forest Service Road south of Houston, B.C., where Coastal GasLink is building part of its 670-kilometre gas pipeline, jumped from $7 million in the previous fiscal year ending March 31.

It’s the most the RCMP has spent on the Morice in a single year since Wet’suwet’en opposition to the pipeline first boiled over in January 2019, and it brings total costs of policing the conflict to almost $37 million in just over four years.

Since early 2019, RCMP have conducted several raids under a BC Supreme Court injunction that bars anyone from blocking access roads or worksites used for pipeline construction. While Crown prosecutors chose not to pursue charges following arrests in 2019 and 2020, nearly 20 people arrested in November 2021 face criminal contempt charges.

Parent company TC Energy and the B.C. government have pointed to benefit agreements signed with five of six Wet’suwet’en band councils as evidence of support for the project. But the nation’s traditional leadership has long opposed pipeline development through their traditional territory.

Despite no large-scale police action in nearly two years, RCMP officers have continued to patrol the Morice road, including entering camps established by the Wet’suwet’en, and maintain a presence in nearby communities.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks said the RCMP’s big spending facilitates the ongoing “monitoring and intimidation” of Wet’suwet’en people on their traditional territory.

“This is not in the public interest, it’s a private interest,” said Na’Moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, noting the policing served CGL in advancing the $15-billion project, which is expected to be completed later this year. “The money itself is setting the template for what they can do for all projects in this country, in particular ones on unceded lands.”

RCMP costs for policing the Morice Forest Service Road, which has seen several high-profile police actions as a result of pipeline opposition in recent years, dropped off during the pandemic but have risen steadily since the beginning of 2022.

The increased spending coincides with a funding boost provided by the B.C. government to the RCMP last year.

In November, as part of $230 million additional funding for rural policing, the province quietly allocated $36 million over three years to the Community-Industry Response Group, an arm of BC RCMP dedicated to quelling protests against resource extraction, such as pipelines and old-growth logging.

In March, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commissioner launched an investigation of the unit following a series of complaints and lawsuits. The Community-Industry Response Group has also been involved in controversial enforcement efforts against logging protesters at Fairy Creek on southern Vancouver Island.

The additional funding is intended to “standardize C-IRG within the BC RCMP… and put in place permanent funding for dedicated officers,” the province later told The Tyee. The first two full-time C-IRG officers were hired last November, internal RCMP records show. The unit had relied on officers on loan from other detachments.

Last year was also the first time annual spending on the Morice topped $10 million, although costs approached that threshold in 2020, when the RCMP’s most sustained pipeline standoff took place over January and February of that year. In total, 28 people were arrested over five days at several locations on the Morice.

In the months that followed, the pandemic shut down protest activity and costs for policing the Morice dropped to less than $6 million the following year. But they began to increase again the year after.

In September 2021, members of the Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en Clan and their supporters established a camp at a worksite where Coastal GasLink was preparing to drill under the Morice River, a sacred waterway known to the Wet’suwet’en as Wedzin Kwa. Two months later, on Nov. 18 and 19, RCMP arrested almost 30 people over two days in the area.

The nine-month period spanning the last police action, from April to December 2021, cost the RCMP less than $2.5 million. But costs began to rise again early in the new year, with the first three months of 2022 racking up nearly $4.5 million in expenses on the Morice.

The increase coincided with a reported attack at Coastal GasLink’s drill site on Feb. 17, 2022, when the company said that masked assailants had entered area, threatened workers and caused millions of dollars in damage to equipment.

The RCMP launched an investigation into the incident, saying it had sent 40 investigators to the Morice, but more than a year and a half later the force has not made any arrests. The Tyee also requested costs for the investigation but has not received a response.

It’s unclear whether those expenses are included in the year’s overall policing costs. The RCMP did not immediately respond to The Tyee’s request for clarification or questions about resources assigned to the Morice.

With Coastal GasLink now significantly over budget and under pressure to complete pipeline construction by the end of this year, Na’Moks said he believes the company is pressuring the RCMP to ensure there are no further delays.

In addition to a heavy police presence on Highway 16 and nearby communities, Coastal GasLink’s private security, Forsythe, maintains a constant presence on the Morice and has established its own office near the turnoff to the drill site, he said.

He added that he suspects that a Canadian National Railway police officer was waiting for a trio of vehicles carrying Wet’suwet’en to the territory in July as they turned off the highway and crossed an inactive railway line at the start of the Morice road.

The officer issued a ticket for not stopping at the dormant crossing, Na’Moks said.

“I think he was just upset that we disturbed his nap,” he joked. “He gave us a $109 fine for that railway crossing that’s all grown over and never used.”

[Top photo: The RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group is a regular presence on Wet’suwet’en territory. The unit racked up more than $11 million in expenses for policing the area last fiscal year. Photo by Amanda Follett Hosgood.]