RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki says she sees no double standard in the way Mounties policed the Freedom Convoy protests and blockades earlier this year compared to the tactics they have used with Indigenous protesters.
During a heated exchange in a committee meeting Tuesday night, NDP MP Matthew Green asked about the scenes that played out during border blockades over COVID-19 health mandates and compared them to blockades during protests against a pipeline drill site on Wet'suwet'en territory in northern British Columbia.
Green referred to the cases as a "juxtaposition of policing — what I'll call a failure of policing."
The RCMP has come under fire after a U.K. newspaper reported that police were prepared to use snipers on Wet'suwet'en Nation protesters and argued for "lethal overwatch" in 2019.
WATCH | Top Mountie pressed to explain RCMP's handling of protesters
Last year, video footage provided to the media showed RCMP tactical officers breaking down a door with an axe and chainsaw to arrest pipeline opponents at Coyote Camp during another protest on the territory. The RCMP is also investigating reports of violence at a pipeline construction site on Coastal GasLink property earlier this year.
Green contrasted those incidents with reports that Alberta RCMP officers shook hands with and hugged some of the protesters who had halted traffic at the United States border crossing near Coutts, Alta., to demonstrate against pandemic health mandates.
RCMP said they seized more than a dozen long guns, hand guns, ammunition and body armour from that site.
Lucki says police are 'part of the community'
"How is it that you reconcile the double standard in policing?" Green asked Lucki Tuesday night as a special joint committee continued its study of the invocation of the Emergencies Act in February to disperse Freedom Convoy protesters.
"And what would you say to Canadians who have questions about the conduct of RCMP officers giving handshakes and high-fives and hugs shortly after these weapon stashes were found in what was admittedly a high-risk investigation and arrest?"
"What I can say was there were many legal protesters at the Coutts protest," Lucki responded.
"And our members, who police there, are part of the community, they shop in those stores. They're neighbours to those people."
Green interrupted, asking if the difference in approach was due to the fact that the protesters at Coutts looked like the police officers themselves.
"No," said Lucki. "They live in those communities."
"Can we acknowledge at least a double standard there?" asked Green.
"No, not at all, no," the head Mountie responded.
Green ended his allotted time by asking if Lucki would "at least admit that there were kid gloves for the protesters in Coutts directly after the discovery of the weapons cache."
"No," said Lucki. She said that in Coutts, it was protesters and supporters who approached police at the scene.
Allegations of police failure
MPs and senators tried to press Lucki during the three-hour committee hearing over how the RCMP and Ottawa Police responded to the hundreds of demonstrators who blocked streets in Ottawa with big rigs and other trucks to protest COVID-19 restrictions.
Beyond Coutts, protesters also blocked border crossings at Windsor, Ont., and Emerson, Man., and the pacific highway crossing in B.C.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued it was necessary to invoke the Emergencies Act to address "serious challenges to law enforcement's ability to effectively enforce the law."
The Emergencies Act authorized a ban on travel to protest zones, allowed banks to freeze the accounts of some of those involved in the protests and allowed officials to commandeer tow trucks. It also enabled the RCMP to enforce municipal bylaws and provincial offences as required.
Lucki said she didn't think the convoy protests suggested a failure in policing, despite several senators and MPs on the committee suggesting the opposite.
Sen. Peter Harder said he thought the actions of police prior to the invocation of the act "demonstrated a series of police failures."
"Not willful failures," he said. "But the inability of police to contain and act appropriately in reducing the occupation here in Ottawa."
Conservatives say threshold wasn't met
Lucki said the temporary powers bestowed by the Emergencies Act served as a deterrent in Ottawa, but they weren't used to clear protest blockades at border crossings.
"In RCMP jurisdiction, we successfully used a measured approach and existing legislation to resolve border blockades," she told the committee.
Lucki also testified that she was involved in conversations about triggering the act a week before it was invoked on Feb. 14, but that she never requested it.
On Wednesday, the Conservatives said that shows Liberal government did not have the evidence to meet the threshold for invoking the Emergencies Act.
"From the beginning, Conservatives have said that the threshold to invoke the unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act was never met and we have repeatedly called on the Liberal government to justify its actions — but they have failed to do so," reads the statement.