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TMX security, RCMP testify during Tiny House Warriors trial in Tk̓emlúps

In a “Kamloops” courtroom last week, Trans Mountain security workers were questioned for their conduct in Secwepemcúl’ecw, with one of them being heard on tape saying “time to start choking people out” prior to a violent altercation involving members of the Tiny House Warriors.

Tiny House Warriors members Mayuk Nicole Manuel, Isha Jules, Sami Nasr and Tricia Charlie were arrested on Sept. 15, 2021, following a three-hour period of heated and sometimes physical interactions with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion’s (TMX) security personnel.

The four land defenders are facing a number of different charges including mischief, assault causing bodily harm and willfully resisting a public officer. Their trial in Kamloops Provincial Court began on Feb. 20.

The Tiny House Warriors are a Secwépemc-led resistance group in opposition to TMX pipeline’s development on their unceded lands. In 2018, the group set up a number of mobile tiny homes along Murtle Lake Road in “Blue River” to disrupt the pipeline project and a nearby temporary camp for its workers.

Before the altercation took place in 2021, a large patch of forest had recently been cleared to make way for the temporary TMX camp, much to the Warriors’ dismay. The Warriors confronted construction workers and security personnel at the camp’s main gate, and blocked any logging equipment from leaving the property.

Bryon Hodgkin was one of the security leads for TMX that day, along with Stuart Morse, who was contracted through Forsythe Security. Both Hodgkin and Morse are retired RCMP officers, each with more than 20 years of experience. They were two of the six witnesses called to the trial’s first week, which consisted of two RCMP arresting officers and four TMX security personnel.

More than 90 minutes of bodycam footage — the majority belonging to Morse — was viewed in court. The footage documented aggressive confrontations between the two parties, which included rocks being thrown in the direction of TMX personnel, who later started throwing rocks back as events escalated. Several Tiny House Warriors members can be seen breaching a court-imposed injunction order and entering the TMX site.

The witnesses testified that they already had prior knowledge of the Tiny House Warriors, and that there were around 15 to 20 members of the group present at the camp that day. Many were wearing black or camo and had their faces hidden.

In one of the videos, a person alleged to be Nasr could be seen smashing the solar panels of TMX’s surveillance trailer with a large rock, before throwing a survey stick at Hodgkin, who was on the phone with TMX’s head of security in “Calgary.” Hodgkin said it was when he attempted to arrest this person on grounds of mischief to property when the event turned physical.

The person broke free from Hodgkin near the TMX surveillance trailer that was being smashed, and that’s when Tiny House Warriors and TMX security got into a scuffle.

A person alleged to be Manuel is seen being pinned to the ground by a security personnel, while an individual alleged to be Jules is pictured in one video surrounded by security personnel, punching Hodgkin in the head and knocking him to the ground before fleeing the property. TMX security personnel Glenn Vogstad testified that Jules “sucker-punched” him in the head, causing him to fall and break four ribs.

About 10 security personnel then formed a line, with Morse instructing construction workers — who had not received any security training measures — to line up behind them to create a physical presence and give the appearance of numbers. No arrests were made at the time.

“We’re just standing our ground. I swooped up a baseball-sized rock and threw it in their direction,” Hodgkin testified.

When the Tiny House Warriors moved off of TMX property, security personnel retreated back and observed as Tiny House Warriors re-entered, causing damage to the TMX security trailer, smashing its solar-panel exterior with rocks before destroying the interior’s contents after gaining access by cutting its lock with an angle grinder.

Nearly three hours after they were called, Clearwater RCMP arrived at the scene and began making arrests outside of TMX property and near the Tiny House Warriors encampment along Murtle Lake Road.

Despite receiving some assistance from TMX personnel during the arrests, Clearwater RCMP Const. Toby Klassen testified that he did not ask for any help from them.

“They needed somebody to help execute these arrests without causing further problems,” Morse explained, who can be heard saying “cuff her hard” as arrests are being made.

As a person identified as Jules complies and is arrested, video shows Morse pressing his leg down onto that person’s legs. Morse initially testified that he “never put a hand or foot on anyone” during the arrests, but after the video was played, he said that he forgot that he did that.

“I did because that is the way I was trained,” he said, referring to his time with the Calgary Police Service.

During his cross-examination of Morse, Manuel’s lawyer, Joe Killoran, criticised Morse’s “security expertise” in handling how events unfolded, arguing that his behaviour only escalated the events.

He particularly questioned Morse’s involvement in arrests; for commandeering construction workers; and for how he could be heard mocking members of the Tiny House Warriors over the course of the day.

His knowledge of whether he knew the identities of the Warriors that day was also questioned — he said that the person he initially identified as Kanahus at the front of the gate that morning actually turned out to be her twin sister, Mayuk. In his notes written after the events, he had Kanahus’s name written — and crossed out — with Nicole written above.

Killoran quoted part of the footage where Morse stated: “‘Kanahus, you need a diet. You look like you need a diet.’ Is mocking women’s weight part of the training?” Killoran asked.

“Aren’t security professionals supposed to deal with not-normal, volatile situations in a professional way?”

He also highlighted how Morse is heard saying “take [expletive] out” before any violence has even occurred, which Morse saying that there was nothing derogatory about it.

In one video clip, after land defenders throw rocks through the fence and start breaching the injunction, Morse can be heard talking to another security worker who says: “OK, time to start arresting people” and Morse replied: “doing something, time to start choking people out.”

“How about when you say, ‘time to start choking people out.’ Is that professional language?” Killoran asked in court.

Morse replied: “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” Morse noted that “choking people out” is a term for “pushing back.”

“Everybody in my group knew exactly what was being insinuated,” he said.

When asked what security purposes these comments make, Morse said that it was just him “thinking out loud.”

“Isn’t the point of paying security to de-escalate and manage situations? Not to taunt and insult?” Killoran asked him.

“That’s exactly what we do. And we did it very well,” said Morse.

The trial resumed Tuesday, with Crown and defense counsels making their submissions in a provincial courtroom before Justice Lorianna Bennett.

In a video statement shared to the Tiny House Warriors Facebook page on Tuesday, Kanahus Manuel sent a message of support for her twin sister and the others facing charges. She said the charges should be dropped.

“Today my heart and my spirit and my prayers go for my sister Mayuk Manuel,” she said.

“You know, Canada is trying to come down heavy on my family, and my twin sister, and we need her free and we need her not on bail, we need her free to continue to fight for our land.”

Aaron Hemens, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, IndigiNews