There were complaints that Mounties were not doing enough at the Canada-U. S. border-crossing in Coutts, Alta., when protests erupted over COVID-19 pandemic policies.
There were others saying the same police force was doing too much and betraying the country.
Almost 260 pages of emails detailing complaints made to the watchdog agency that investigates Mounties show many people were angry with the police response to trucker protests that blocked Alberta's main border crossing for more than two weeks in early 2022.
“The RCMP have become nothing more than political hit men 'just doing their job' and will watch democracy crumble before them in the name of 'public health,'" said a complaint to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP in February 2022.
Partially redacted documents obtained under freedom of information laws include many of the complaints received by the commission during the protest in the community of about 245 people. The commission is an independent agency that is mandated to receive complaints about the conduct of RCMP members, investigate and report the findings.
“Why are the RCMP not doing anything? Arrest them. Seize their vehicles. They are economic terrorists,” another complaint said of the protesters.
The commission received 131 complaints about the protests from January to the end of February 2022, it said in an email. Only seven the of the complaints were processed, two of which were later terminated. It was concluded one didn’t involve the Mounties and the other was “third party,” meaning the incident did not involve the person making the complaint.
The complaints that were investigated included allegations of improper use of force and improper attitude, the commission said.
Most of the complaints received by the commission during the months of the protests didn’t fall under its mandate and were rejected. Some involved policing agencies other than the RCMP and many involved things the person had seen on social media, not encounters they personally witnessed or were involved in.
Many complaints were about a YouTube video near the Coutts highway protest in which a person alleges RCMP caused damage to excavators.
“I strongly feel that trespassing with malicious intent, pre-emptive sabotaging of equipment/destruction of property was committed and is not how our police should behave,” the complainant says.
Other complaints about the incident compared Canada to Communist regimes and called the country Orwellian.
“Is the state engaging in sabotage the kind of country you want for your fellow citizens? For your children and grandchildren?” a complaint said.
Many complaints included thoughts on politics and advice on how the Mounties should have responded.
“If you can’t find a tow truck company, buy three or four yourselves and pay them off with the money from the seized rigs,” a complaint from Feb. 8, 2022 said.
“Now, I know they are scary, and white, so that makes it complicated for you guys. But Alberta passed Bill 1 and if you don’t make arrests and end this, then it is the fault of the RCMP.”
That legislation, passed by the United Conservative government in 2021, gives police and prosecutors more tools to protect railways, highways and pipelines from anyone trespassing, interfering with operations and construction, or causing damage.
One complaint, which provided a false phone number and post office box, was about an RCMP officer not wearing a mask and coming close to a person. It was later learned the Mountie in question didn’t work at the area at the time.
It was also found through social media and investigation that the person who made the complaint was very likely one of the protesters at the Alberta border crossing.
Complaints, when rejected, were still largely forwarded on to the commissioner of the RCMP.
Protests at the Coutts crossing, in downtown Ottawa and elsewhere were eventually snuffed out when the Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act, a move a public inquiry later found was justified.
But the protests had already made a deep impact, especially on the opinion of policing agencies. The inquiry’s final report made 56 recommendations, with 27 directed at how to improve police operations.
“I can’t even put into words how my opinion of police has plummeted in the last two weeks, but I know I’m not alone,” one complaint said.
It also had a significant effect on the border community. Mayor Jim Willett told the public inquiry last November the whole ordeal has left Coutts divided.
“We still have neighbours that won't talk to each other because of the protest."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2023.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press