In September 2009, an RCMP Emergency Response Team (ERT), accompanied by an officer from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), approached an isolated hunting cabin near the Kisgagas reserve, north of New Hazelton, in central BC. Driving an unmarked DFO pick up, the ERT had been dispatched to arrest Rodney Shayne Jackson, 35 years of age and a member of the Gitxsan nation. Jackson had failed to appear in court on charges several months earlier.
The camouflaged and heavily armed ERT did not arrest Jackson, however. Instead, they shot him in the back, allegedly believing he was armed with a rifle. Jackson later died in hospital.
Two years later, in September 2011, an inquest was held into the fatal shooting in a Terrace, BC, courtroom. According to the DFO officer who accompanied the ERT, Jackson was not carrying a rifle; he was carrying a garden rake.
A reconstruction technician, who reconstructs crime scenes and shootings, testified he was never told that Jackson was shot in the back. It was also revealed that the RCMP did not have an air ambulance on standby, despite the very high potential for shooting to occur due to the presence of the ERT. Nor did they have even a basic first aid kit.
After five days of testimony, a five-member jury ruled the shooting a homicide (one of five classifications of death used by the coroner's service and not a judgment, unlike a criminal case). They also made 13 recommendations. Among these were that the BC Ambulance Service should acquire four-wheel drive vehicles so they can access remote areas; that all RCMP vehicles be equipped with first aid kits, and; that an air ambulance be on standby for incidents that have a high potential for danger. The jury also recommended that an outside body be used to investigate police killings, and for RCMP liaison officers to provide regular reports to band councils.
The ERT are specialized police units trained in military tactics and weaponry. They are mostly used in incidents involving weapons, and especially firearms, that are seen as too dangerous for regular patrol officers (i.e., barricaded suspects, hostage takings, etc.). As a high risk occupation, ERT's attract the most aggressive and militaristic police officers.
During the siege of a Secwepemc Sundance at Gustafsen Lake/Ts'Peten, near 100 Mile House, BC, in the summer of 1995, some 450 RCMP were deployed. Most were ERT units. Despite having a much larger number of armed personnel (against some 24 members of the Sundance camp, perhaps 12 of whom were actually armed), the RCMP borrowed 9 Bison armoured personnel carriers (APCs) from the Canadian military, along with their two-person crews.
As revealed by the RCMP's own video (intended as a training video on handling such crises), the police engaged in smear and disinformation campaigns against the Native sovereigntists and their lawyer. According to the defenders, the police also fabricated shooting incidents, including firing at their own vehicle and flak vests, in order to gain approval for the deployment of the APCs.
On September 11, 1995, ERT members placed an explosive charge across a dirt road and later ambushed a vehicle used by the defenders. Driving in a previously agreed-upon 'no-shoot' zone, the two occupants survived the powerful explosion and fled the vehicle. Moments later, a Bison APC roars out of the forest and smashes into the disabled pickup.
As the now unarmed defenders fled, ERT members began firing at them. They wounded one and killed their dog. The ambush and shooting sparked a gun battle that raged throughout the afternoon. A Bison APC was disabled and had to be rescued by another, all the while taking fire from the lightly armed warriors. Police fired tens of thousands of rounds during the shoot-out.
The RCMP claimed the truck had hit an 'early warning device' and that the occupants had opened fire on them, instigating the gun battle. They also reported that hundreds, and not tens of thousands, of rounds were fired by ERT members.
The next day, on September 12, an unarmed defender walking to the lake, again in an agreed-upon 'no-shoot' zone, was fired on by an ERT sniper. The shots missed, and the police claimed the individual was wearing camouflage and carrying a rifle. To compensate for the poor aim of its snipers, the RCMP acquired .50-calibre rifles from an Arizona gun dealer (after requests for the rifles were turned down by the military). It was later revealed in the year-long trial that the man was neither camouflaged nor carrying a rifle.
The truth of what occurred during these incidents is only known because, as part of the Crown disclosures, many hours of police surveillance video were provided to the defendants. This surveillance was conducted by a high-flying RCMP plane equipped with powerful cameras.
Other aspects of the violent and racist nature of ERT personnel were also shown during the trial. ERT members envisaged “forcing defiant natives at Gustafsen Lake to surrender on their
knees to white police officers.” ERT patrols into the camp area would leave ‘death cards’ signed with names like “wild weasel” and reading: “Vancouver ERT: Wish you were here.”
There never was an inquiry into the actions of the RCMP or its ERT units at 100 Mile House. The New Democratic Party, the ruling provincial government at the time, rejected any talk of one. If there had been, we can only speculate that, perhaps, it would have produced better recommendations than simply having first aid kits and more band council meetings with RCMP liaison officers.
Not only are the RCMP a corrupt and oppressive force (as police are in general), they are also an important instrument in the colonial occupation of Native lands. Originally the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), they were modeled after the Royal Irish Constabulary, then used by the British in their occupation of Ireland. The NWMP were established in 1873 after the Metis-Native rebellion of 1870. Their first major deployment was to crush the 1885 Northwest Rebellion.
Since then, of course, the RCMP have been used in a wide variety of repressive functions, from enforcing the Indian Act to strike-breaking, from surveillance and intimidation of social movements to attacking protesters in the street.
Knowing this, the only recommendations this inquiring mind can make are: disarm the ERT and disband the RCMP.