NunatuKavut Community Council president claims accused acted improperly in response to site protests
The NunatuKavut Community Council is claiming charges laid against its members after arrests at a protest on Apr. 5, 2013, were “tainted and biased.”
About a dozen NunatuKavut members staged a protest on the Trans-Labrador Highway on April 5.
— Telegram file photo
The protest, on the Trans-Labrador Highway, was against the province’s multibillion-dollar hydroelectric project at Muskrat Falls, on Labrador’s lower Churchill River.
NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell now says an RCMP officer involved in the protest response was, at the time, focused on obtaining a job on the construction project.
One of the people arrested and charged on the day, Russell pointed to the fact the police officer was subsequently hired as a safety officer at the Muskrat Falls site. The hire was in mid-July according to Nalcor Energy.
“I believe that the evidence points to this officer acted improperly and I believe that there may have been other people in the RCMP detachment that was aware of some of this,” he told The Telegram.
“This is what I believe, given the evidence — whether it was implicit or explicit, I believe that job was out there and the actions of the RCMP on April 5 were influenced by the fact that a job was pending.”
The NunatuKavut Community Council, he said, has been instructed by the RCMP to raise its complaints as part of the court proceedings in followup to the arrests and charges.
Russell said the NunatuKavut Community Council wants to see the entire situation — including the hiring of the RCMP officer at site — independently investigated.
“This is about making sure the administration of justice is carried out in a non-prejudicial way,” he said.
The police have dismissed Russell’s accusations of misconduct.
“The RCMP is confident its actions were professional and lawful,” said RCMP spokesman Sgt. Marc Coulombe, in a statement issued Thursday.
“There will be no further comment on related matters before the criminal courts and subject to ongoing investigation.”
The RCMP officer targeted in the NunatuKavut Community Council’s complaint is not retired from the force, but is currently on leave.
“As an employer, the RCMP does not comment on confidential personnel matters relating to individual employees,” the police statement notes.
As for Nalcor Energy, the Crown corporation sees no issue, regardless of the NunatuKavut Community Council’s outrage over the hire.
“We have no role in decisions that are made by law enforcement agencies, and I think it’s as straightforward as that,” said Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor Energy’s lead on the Lower Churchill project.
Bennett said the RCMP officer in question applied for the job as posted by SNC-Lavalin. A job was not created for him.
“I don’t see how a hiring decision that was made after an open hiring process, when somebody applied for the position, would influence our relationship with NunatuKavut. I look at those as two completely separate situations,” he said.
Bennett said hiring at site is an ongoing process as the project ramps up, with positions posted by SNC-Lavalin and project contractors as requirements arise.
“I think in this particular case, we’re delighted to have an individual who’s a resident of the community, who understands the situation and understands the relationships and the issues that are, that occur or exist in the Upper Lake Melville area,” he said. The lower Churchill River runs into Lake Melville.
“He adds a lot of value and certainly, helps manage the safety of the site and the security of the workers and members of the general public. He has a good understanding of the area and the issues.”
The Telegram is not considering naming the officer, barring official response, such as a judge deciding on the charges from the April protest, or professional sanctions.
In May, the NunatuKavut Community Council wrote to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson requesting an investigation into the response to their protest.
Paulson replied in a letter dated June 14.
“I can assure you that the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP will have the full co-operation of the RCMP during its investigation into this matter,” he stated.
Any comment on the case would be inappropriate, he said, given the matter is before the courts.
He added the issues raised by the NunatuKavut Community Council immediately following the protest would be on the agenda at the next meeting of the Commissioner’s National Aboriginal Advisory Committee.