“We are aware of the injunction and we will work in partnership with the CN Police. The RCMP works within the existing legal framework that balances public safety with individual rights.”
— A statement issued by RCMP in Manitoba after two dozen Idle No More protesters blocked the CN rail line at the Trans-Canada and Yellowhead highways on Wednesday.
Just as Idle No More protesters begin to ramp up their activities across the country, Canadian opinion on aboriginal issues has begun to harden.
And as a result, police forces in every province face increased pressure to crack down on the movement and its followers. But critics of police and RCMP officers who say its time to shove the protesters off the streets and railways — or just arrest them for breaking the law — are missing the bigger picture.
For example, over the past few weeks the Sun has received numerous submissions to Sound Off and our Letters section (many of which are unpublishable), complaining about the Idle No More movement. Some of the commenters took issue with the local protest held on Jan. 11 in Brandon on 18th Street and Victoria Avenue for holding up traffic and being a general nuisance.
Others wondered why police hadn’t just arrested the lot of them.
First of all, the Brandon University Aboriginal Student Council had conducted the Idle No More protest in Brandon completely above board. The Brandon Police Service confirmed that the BUASC had obtained both a parade permit and a special events permit for the protest.
In other words, whether you agree with the movement or not, the protesters had every legal right to be there, even if it confounded a few angry motorists for an evening.
But even if they didn’t, what good would have come from BPS officers moving in with riot gear to break up the protest and throw people in jail? That kind of action would have made headlines across the country and radicalized a movement that until now has remained loud, but generally quite peaceful.
Instead, our Brandon force began rerouting traffic around the intersection about an hour before the protest began, to ensure the protest remained peaceful.
And when one of the protesters, Jay Moosetail, later took to Facebook to falsely claim that Brandon police had taken him outside the city limits and told him to walk back into the city from the airport, the BPS immediately filed a request to the Manitoba Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the allegations.
Though Moosetail would eventually admit to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that he made up the starlight tour accusation, he still insisted that a BPS officer tried to provoke him and called him names such as “dirty Indian.”
Even though such an admission calls into question the veracity of Moosetail’s claim, the BPS has been taking the allegation seriously, and the RCMP will conduct an investigation into BPS member misconduct.
If the allegations are proven true, then BPS should take disciplinary steps. Either way, the BPS has done the right thing in attempting to address the situation.
Meanwhile, Manitoba RCMP — like other police forces across the country — have been ridiculed for not removing Idle No More protesters from a CN rail line at the Trans-Canada and Yellowhead highways near Portage la Prairie on Wednesday.
This even though CN had obtained a court injunction to put an end to the rail delays.
That police did not act to break up the peaceful blockade — even though protesters threw the injunction paperwork on the ground and ridiculed officers — which shows that someone in RCMP leadership has a brain, and chose rather to keep the peace, not break it.
We understand why Canadians are angry and we also believe that First Nations governments must be more accountable with the federal funds they receive before they can demand more.
But the last thing that this country needs is reckless accusations from protesters or poorly thought-out reactions from law enforcement in response.