The Liberal government has been facing mounting criticism over the solidarity protests taking place over Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia, but more recent debate has been centred around police action.
This came to a head on Wedesday, when a hereditary chief representing one of 13 Wet’suwet’en house groups said they won’t meet with Carolyn Bennett and her B.C. counterpart Scott Fraser until an RCMP detachment is removed.
The federal opposition is calling on the government to send in police, but is there anything the government can do?
The demonstrations, which have been ongoing since Dec. 31, are in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose a $6.6-billion Coastal Gaslink pipeline that is set to be built through their unceded territory.
Widespread protests began after the B.C. Supreme Court granted an expanded injunction that established an exclusion zone against protesters interfering with its construction.
While Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer denounced the Canadian government’s response to the blockades as the “weakest response to a national crisis” on Tuesday, Trudeau urged restraint.
“Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever,” Trudeau said.
During an emergency meeting debate at the House of Commons Tuesday evening, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett also responded to government criticism of the unrest by saying the Government of Canada “cannot direct the RCMP.”
“It is very important to remember that the government does not have the authority to dictate the processes to the RCMP,” said Bennett.
“It is not the role of parliamentarians to tell the police how to do their job.”
But Public Safety Critic Glen Motz disagreed. He referred to the RCMP Act, which states the minister of public safety has the authority to direct the RCMP, as long as their requests did not interfere with “lawful duties” or have any interference in the “law enforcement function.”
“Given that information, of course the minister of public safety can provide direction to the RCMP,” he said on Wednesday. “The functionality of how they carry out that is up to the RCMP.