Yukon MP Larry Bagnell speaks with Wet’suwet’en supporters in Whitehorse on Feb. 7. At that meeting, Bagnell said he wasn’t up to date with the blockade raids and therefore couldn’t comment fully. During a Feb. 15 recorded phone call recently shared with the News, Bagnell said excessive police force should never be used, but had no comment as to whether excessive force had been used by RCMP in Wet’suwet’en territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Police shouldn’t use ‘excessive force,’ Bagnell says regarding national resistance to B.C. pipeline

Yukoners have been pressing Bagnell to clarify his position on RCMP action in Wet’suwet’en territory

“Excessive” police force should never be used, MP Larry Bagnell told Yukoners pressing him to clarify his position on police intervention in Wet’suwet’en territory.

The News obtained a recorded phone call from Feb. 15 between Bagnell and concerned constituents.

They sent an open letter on Feb. 12 calling on him to denounce the RCMP actions and “make an informed public comment on the issue.” A spokesperson for the group wasn’t immediately available for comment.

“It’s a tenent of the enforcement of justice that no one, whether police or citizen’s arrest, use excessive force,” Bagnell told the News Feb. 18. “That’s my philosophy, too.”

Asked whether he thinks there’s been excessive police force in Wet’suwet’en territory, Bagnell said he has “no comment.”

Bagnell said he provided copies of the Yukon letter to Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller on Feb. 18 before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to the issue in the House of Commons. According to reports, Trudeau said then that he wants to address the issue quickly, cautioning against the use of force.

The Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia have been fighting to protect their traditional territory from a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline.

RCMP officers have raided camps twice in one year. The conflict spilled over earlier this month when officers once again broke through several camps along a forest access road in central B.C. and conducted a rash of arrests of land defenders. The Tyendinaga Mohawks have blocked a railway near Belleville Ont. in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. That occupation of the CN rail line has lasted for nearly two weeks, causing a freeze of services.

On Feb. 7, Yukoners took part in a brief sit-in at Bagnell’s office. He was asked then to put pressure on his colleagues in Ottawa to call off the RCMP.

Bagnell said there should be more dialogue with affected parties, adding that his position hasn’t changed since the issue reached a fever pitch.

Federal ministers have started those conversations, he said, noting that Miller met with Mohawk people from Tyendinaga recently.

On Feb. 16, Bennett said on social media that she spoke with a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, adding that a letter was sent in order to facilitate a joint meeting as soon as possible.

“The offer’s open for the B.C. government and the federal government ministers to meet with the hereditary chiefs,” Bagnell said. “I don’t think that was available in the beginning, so I think that’s a step forward.”

Bagnell said ministers want to steer clear of protracted tensions, referring to the Oka Crisis, among others. Mohawk people resisted a golf course expansion on land considered sacred, land claimed by Kanesatake. A Quebec police officer was killed. The military was called in eventually. The land continues to be held in trust by the federal government. It hasn’t been handed back entirely.

“The use of force even led to longer standoffs and some tragic consequences and there was ongoing tensions for years, so that’s not a good answer,” Bagnell told the News.

Asked whether ministers fear history repeating itself if a stronger use of force is used to end blockades, he said yes.

“In the discussions, you have to remember that Indigenous rights and Aboriginal title are under Canadian law,” Bagnell said.

He plugged the Yukon as a good example of First Nations and Canadian governments working together to clarify these issues, referring to final agreements. The process is more equal if development in traditional territories is being contemplated, he said.

“I think if there was a similar treaty with the Wet’suwet’en, then this wouldn’t have occurred. Right now, in that area there hasn’t been those agreements or land use planning or where Aboriginal title applies,” Bagnell said.

“That’s the type of thing we’ve been trying to work for across Canada, so we get more agreements like that, which would, I think, preclude a situation like this.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com