Minister of Public Safety & Solicitor General deflects accountability for provincial police force

Oct 7, 2021 | 42-1, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Question Period, Video | 0 comments

Today I asked Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Hon. Mike Farnworth, what specific actions he is taking to ensure that the civil liberties of British Columbians are protected at Fairy Creek. The Minister refused to answer because the matter is before the courts.

The videos of the conduct of the RCMP at Fairy Creek are difficult to watch as the police enforcement causes physical and emotional trauma to those protesting. As the tension grew and violence increased, all we got was silence from this BC NDP government.

BC Supreme Court Justice Thompson found the RCMP’s use of media exclusion zones to be illegal, called their actions “regrettable” and damaging to the court’s reputation, and criticized them for removing their identification and displaying the thin blue line.

Minister Farnworth has failed to make clear to the public and the RCMP his expectations. He has failed to demand access to the media, failed to demand officers wear proper identification, and failed to protect our citizens.

We contract the RCMP as our provincial police force. Minister Farnworth is responsible for managing that contract, and all policing in British Columbia.

There have been serious concerns by the BC Supreme Court about the enforcement tactics of the RCMP at the logging blockades. Minister Farnworth says RCMP conduct needs to be investigated through the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) and that the provincial government offers no oversight of our federal policing contractor.

In 2009, our Attorney General, Hon. David Eby, was the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. He was deeply critical of the CRCC, expressing serious concerns about the police investigating themselves.

We live in a democracy that requires police accountability and oversight by the elected representatives in the BC Legislature. It is totally unacceptable and dangerous for the Minister responsible for policing to deflect responsibility and accountability.

[Transcript]

A. Olsen:

There have been over 1,100 arrests that have been made at the Fairy Creek old-growth logging blockades. It’s the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history, spurred by this government’s failed leadership to protect old-growth forests.

The videos of the conduct of the RCMP, our contracted provincial police force, are difficult to watch, as they cause physical and emotional trauma. As the tension grew and the violence increased, all we got was silence from this B.C. NDP government.

B.C. Supreme Court justice Douglas Thompson found the RCMP’s use of exclusion zones that limited media access to be illegal, calling the actions of the RCMP regrettable and damaging to our court’s reputation. He criticized the RCMP decision to remove their identification and the lack of enforcement of a directive to remove badges displaying the thin blue line.

All summer the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, the minister responsible for policing in this province, has been silent. My question is to the minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. What specific action has the minister taken to protect the civil liberties of the protesters?

Hon. M. Farnworth:

I thank the member for the question. I’d remind the member that the issue he’s referring to is currently before the courts, under appeal. Therefore, I’ve got no further comment in that regard.

Mr. Speaker:

The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

A. Olsen:

What I’m asking about is police accountability. That’s not before the court. That’s the responsibility of every member in this chamber. Police accountability is our responsibility, and we bestow that responsibility on the Minister of Public Safety. It is completely unacceptable for him to stand in this House today and deflect that, saying that a matter of an injunction is before the court.

What I’m talking about is protecting the civil liberties of British Columbians. Justice Thompson refused to extend that injunction because of the unacceptable behaviour of the RCMP. That matter was decided. As Paul Willcocks summarized in the Tyee, Justice Thompson “found the RCMP’s enforcement trampled on civil rights, went far beyond the terms of the injunction, unreasonably hid the actions from journalists’ scrutiny and failed basic tests of accountability.”

The minister has failed to make clear to the public and the RCMP throughout the summer his expectations of this government. He failed to demand access for the media, failed to demand officers wear proper identification and failed to protect citizens in this province.

We live in a democratic society, not a police state. We must ensure that it never deteriorates to that by demanding accountability in this place. Not the House of Commons. Here. As Willcocks wrote, and I agree, if the provincial government refuses to provide oversight, there is no meaningful accountability.

Our provincially contracted police service is the responsibility of the Minister of Public Safety. Will he stand in this chamber today and state publicly his expectation that all police services in this province uphold the law as outlined by Justice Thompson in both his decisions?

Hon. M. Farnworth:

I thank the member for the question. Again, as he refers to the decisions that are under appeal, I have no comment on that and cannot comment at this point.

But on a more general situation, what I would say is that the Solicitor General in this province does not direct the police. Nor do we ever want politicians telling police what they should and should not do.

If there are issues and there are complaints, there are processes that are well established by legislation where people are able to make complaints against the police and they are investigated by independent bodies. Those are in place.

I am aware that complaints were made. I am also aware that those complaints are being looked into and investigated, which is exactly what should happen.

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