A deal is being crafted between Gitxsan chiefs and the RCMP to avoid potentially dangerous confrontations should the federal police force ever enforce Supreme Court orders stemming from blockades or similar actions in the Hazeltons.
So far the Office of the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs and the RCMP have agreed to a framework calling for an early warning of situations that could result in blockades of roads and railways or demands that companies or individuals leave Gitxsan house groups’ properties or locations.
And from that knowledge, channels of communications and contact agreed upon already would be put in place between all parties to dampen rumours or speculation as to what might or might not be happening or what could happen.
“When a crisis hits, there can be serious damage to community, livelihoods and/or the environment,” reads one paragraph of a seven-page document signed just before Christmas by Gitxsan hereditary chiefs Brian Williams and Norman Moore and Chief Superintendent Warren Brown who commands the RCMP in northern B.C.
It calls the framework now being fleshed out a community safety plan for a crisis management response.
“Workers and government ministries can get caught up in games of popularity, regulators may look to assign blame. Antagonists (including police psychologists) may take advantage of a situation for their own gain, activists may mobilize with or without good intention.”
Speaking afterward, Williams said the chiefs do not dispute the authority of the RCMP to act on an enforcement order but that the police force does have the discretion on how the enforcement is carried out.
“Would you like your community to witness helicopters, dogs and militarized RCMP?” he asked.
“What we want to do is be proactive,” said Williams. “We believe we can avoid escalations, life or death situations, save taxpayers money.”
“From this agreement with the RCMP we hope to give them a better understanding of the Gitxsan culture.”
He added that any framework emphasizing communications and information sharing between the hereditary chief’s office and the RCMP should not be regarded as a mediation measure by the chiefs.
“Each chief operates independently regarding their territory. It is up to them to make decisions,” Williams said.
The move by the chiefs to work with the RCMP got its impetus after the arrests of several Gitxsan, including chiefs, at rail blockades of the CN lines set up in early 2020 in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en house groups protesting Coastal GasLink pipeline construction south of Houston.
“There’s video of a police officer pointing his firearm at a Gitxsan,” said Williams.
So far Gitxsan activism within the Hazeltons in the past several years has been limited to the rail blockades of 2020 but Williams foresaw potential scenarios that could result in increased police response.
“Gitxsan Wilp [house groups] may ensure there is no trespassing on their territory. They may evict trespassers. That may include sports fishermen. If they want to fish at our sites, they need our permission,” he said.
Williams said the Gitxsan chiefs generally have good relations with the New Hazelton RCMP detachment and that the framework being worked on would not apply to the everyday activities of the police force involving investigations of criminal behaviour or responses to crime.
“We leave that to the RCMP,” he said of general policing activity within the region.
Brown acknowledged the framework, but said he would be in a better position to comment once more details have been worked out.