Calls for review of police actions during Muskrat Falls protest
RCMP officers approach NunatuKavut demonstrators to make arrests during their April 5 protest.
— Photo by Derek Montague/The Labradorian
NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) President Todd Russell has launched a complaint to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.
The complaint stems from a protest the NCC held April 5, which led to the arrest of Russell and seven other protesters.
During that protest, Russell and about a dozen others blocked traffic on the Trans-Labrador Highway and prevented traffic from going into the Muskrat Falls worksite.
"The complaint is based on the fact that we felt that the RCMP did not behave properly," says Russell. "And we felt that it was excessive, their actions, in the sense that we had participated in protests of a similar nature and there were no arrests."
A few hours after the protest began, the RCMP told the protesters they could not block traffic and warned them that they could be arrested for obstruction if they refused to move.
A while later, Russell and seven others linked arms and laid on the road in defiance of the RCMP's orders. They were carried off one by one and put into RCMP vehicles, and charged with obstruction.
The NCC says it has a claim to land in the Muskrat Falls area and says the provincial government and Nalcor did not consult with it before going ahead with the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project.
Tim Cogan, a spokesman for the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, has confirmed it has received an official complaint against the RCMP from Russell.
"We got a complaint on (May) the 14th," says Cogan. "And we forwarded it off to the RCMP on the 15th for followup."
Russell said the arrests unfairly targeted him and the other NunatuKavut protesters. He said he and others held a protest, which blocked traffic, at the same highway location in January. No arrests were made at that time.
Russell also pointed out that no Innu protesters were arrested when they shut down the worksite in mid-April.
"We also compare that to the fact that there were a number of protests across the country as part of the Idle No More movement, where there were road blockades and railroad blockades and there were no arrests," said Russell.
"The law must treat everybody fairly and law must seem to be treating everybody fairly and without bias ... and in this case, I don't think that's the case."
Since the arrests, Russell and other members of NunatuKavut have contended that the arrests were politically motivated.
"The law cannot ... act on particular pressure, say from political higher ups or political interference."
Russell said there is nothing in the complaint about being mishandled or roughly treated by the RCMP officers who took them into custody.