At least four different members of a controversial RCMP unit laughed about police brutality, people with disabilities and the campaign for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in recordings played for a Smithers courtroom Wednesday.

“That big fuckin’ ogre-looking dude, he’s actually like, autistic,” one officer said, describing an Indigenous man arrested on Wet’suwet’en territory in November 2021. Another C-IRG trooper can be heard laughing.

“The fuckin’ guys just beat the shit out of him, and then he started crying. I felt bad for him,” the officer continued to more laughter, describing the swarming of an unarmed land defender by police on a remote snow-covered road near the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

“Apparently the Sergeant grabbed his balls and twisted. I guess he was on the ground and everyone was just grabbing limbs. He didn’t have a limb to grab, so he like, just grabs his balls, like, you done now? You done resisting?”

The Sergeant referred to is likely Kevin Bracewell, a former British Army tank commander and police trainer in Afghanistan. Bracewell led the tactical troop that conducted “hands on” arrests south of Houston and in New Hazelton during the multi-day C-IRG operation.

Candid audio captured on a hot mic

Police arrested three journalists and several legal observers, and barred others from the road – so there are no videos or photos of much of what happened November 18, 19, or in the days afterward in RCMP jail cells in Houston and Prince George.

But the court got a small window into officers’ conduct during and after arrests, thanks to wireless microphones that continued recording after being confiscated by police. Defence lawyers played the audio during questioning of Superintendent Jim Elliott, the Silver Commander in charge of Coastal GasLink injunction enforcement.

Justice Michael Tammen, himself a former criminal defence lawyer, was seen shaking his head after one clip was played. Crown prosecutors looked ashen. “Unprofessional and unacceptable,” Elliott said from the stand after hearing the ‘ogre’ tape, apparently for the first time.

The audio should lend weight to earlier allegations by Indigenous arrestees that they were transported in what appeared to be dog kennels and subjected to pain compliance techniques. Wet’suwet’en land defenders describe a pattern of violent and degrading treatment by officers before, during and after arrests.

Revelations could upend contempt trial

Last week the judge said he was prepared to make a finding of criminal contempt against three defendants. Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham), a wing chief in the Gidimt’en clan, Shay Lynn Sampson, a Gitxsan woman from the related Lax Gibuu clan, and Corey “Jayohcee” Jocko from Akwesasne were arrested in the path of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

But Tammen agreed to hear an application for abuse of process by the defence, which alleges that police violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to such a degree that the charges should be thrown out. That extended the trial and brought RCMP witnesses back for cross-examination.

Shortly before these arrests in Fall 2021, another judge refused to extend an injunction at Fairy Creek, saying widespread civil liberties violations by C-IRG officers put the court’s reputation at risk. If he feels similarly, Tammen could order a stay of proceedings. Or he could find the defendants guilty of contempt, but factor the circumstances into sentencing.

In the coming days, defence lawyers will question RCMP dog handlers and jailers, seeking to show how nonviolent arrestees were treated with excessive force, arbitrarily detained and denied bail without just cause.

Police compare Indigenous women to monsters

Also played for the court was separate audio from another microphone, previously reported on by The Narwhal but apparently never heard by Superintendent Elliott, Crown prosecutors or the judge.

As police moved toward their tiny home near Wedzin Kwa (the Morice River), Sleydo’ and Shay Lynn Sampson donned red dresses and painted red hand prints over their mouths, in memory of Wet’suwet’en women missing and murdered along B.C.’s notorious Highway of Tears.

Meanwhile ERT (Emergency Response Team) members in helmets and green uniforms, armed with sniper rifles, semi-automatic carbines and 40mm projectile launchers were stalking through the woods toward the cabins. ERT teams provide “lethal overwatch” for C-IRG operations, rappel out of helicopters and breach structures to conduct arrests.

Superintendent Elliott, a hulking former ERT member in a rumpled suit, agreed that red dresses are an easily recognized symbol of the campaign for justice for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. “The red hand prints, I believe it’s connected as well,” Elliott agreed.

All the officers under his command, Elliott said, would have had special training on Indigenous cultural sensitivity, plus a final PowerPoint presentation reminding them to respect Indigenous and Charter rights. Yet on tape, two different groups of officers laugh and joke about the women looking like monsters from The Lord of the Rings.

“They all had the fuckin’ paint like, are you an orc?” one officer says. On the other mic, two more police discuss the journalists arrested that day with Sleydo’ and Shay Lynn Sampson. “The one Amber chick is fine, the media chick. She’s clean and normal. But the one dude is a fuckin’ tool,” a voice says, in reference to Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano.

“Do they have fuckin’ face paint on too? They’re not orcs?” says another officer. “The Uruk-Hai, yeah, they burst from the earth,” says the first as the other giggles. Superintendent Elliott shook his head. “That is unacceptable. I’ll offer my personal apologies. That should never have happened.”

Asked by defence lawyer Frances Mahon if the officers’ conversations suggested that arrestees’ Charter rights had, in fact, been violated, Elliott said yes.

Gassing Sleydo’ would “make the RCMP look bad”

At another point on the recording C-IRG officers talk about what sounds like a party. “Did you see that picture of Jordan dressed as a wizard, drunk as fuck?” Their laughter is at odds with commanders’ description of the mortal danger awaiting them in the snowy woods, justifying sniper teams, police dogs and the use of gas.

Following Supt. Elliott on the stand was Inspector Glen Fishbook, called 8 Zulu 50 or simply “Fish” by his men. The Bronze commander in charge of the Emergency Response Team, Fishbook appeared in court like a diminutive college professor, with reading glasses perched on his head. But he moves and scans the room like an elite tactical operator, which he is.

Watching Sleydo’s livestream on Facebook, police knew she had a wooden board across the door of her tiny rectangular cabin on wheels. Fishbook called it a “deadman barricade” and a “high-risk situation” for his officers. Common practice, he said, would be to shoot gas canisters through a door or window to force occupants, choking on chemical smoke, to come out into the open.

“Ultimately, with Superintendent Elliott, I decided not to because of the optics,” Fishbook testified. “For fear it would be turned around to make the RCMP look bad.” But his ERT members hadn’t brought other breaching tools. So they commandeered axes and a chainsaw from the camp to break down the door, pointing a 40mm projectile launcher directly at Sleydo’.

“I didn’t precisely dictate the methods,” Fishbook said. “It’s not my role to micromanage.”

Eby government doubles down on C-IRG

“Can we just gas ‘em?” one officer asks as the microphone rustles around. “I’m surprised they didn’t, no chemicals authorized,” says another. “That’s what they always do is just gas, gas, gas.” “It’s a lot less invasive than [inaudible] the fuck out of them, wrenching their hands [inaudible].”

The RCMP’s civilian watchdog is conducting a ‘systemic review’ of the C-IRG unit after hundreds of complaints from years of Wet’suwet’en raids, Trans Mountain arrests and violent melees at Fairy Creek. Sleydo’ and other members of the Gidimt’en clan are also suing the RCMP and private security contractors for harassment and intimidation.

Dogwood and many other groups have called on B.C. to abolish C-IRG. But rather than disband the unit, David Eby’s NDP government is giving it increased and permanent funding, according to commanders. C-IRG, which stands for Community-Industry Response Group, is also getting a rebrand. In future operations it will be known as CRU, the Critical Response Unit.

Inspector Ken Floyd, who was a Bronze commander during the Fall 2021 C-IRG operations, has been promoted to Superintendent, transferred from Prince George to Surrey and made Gold Commander of the new CRU. Justice Tammen will rule in February on another high profile contempt case: that of Fireweed clan wing chief Dtsa’hyl, who was arrested by Floyd in October 2021.

Last November, Tammen acquitted Dakelh land defender Sabina Dennis on the same charge. 146 cases at Fairy Creek fell apart in court after C-IRG officers didn’t bother to read arrestees the full injunction. But the real point of C-IRG, or CRU, is not to conduct investigations or even to make charges stick in court.

“These are multibillion dollar projects that are being stopped,” former Gold Commander John Brewer told the CBC’s Fifth Estate. “The goal here is to allow industry, under the injunction, to complete their work.”

It’s been more than two years since Sleydo’, Shay Lynn Sampson and Corey Jocko were dragged out of cabins at gunpoint. Their trial could stretch into the fall. Meanwhile Coastal GasLink has completed construction of the pipeline – without ever having to deal with the question of who actually holds jurisdiction over the land.

If their victory in the Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case is any indication, the Wet’suwet’en will one day be vindicated in court. Hopefully they will win some measure of justice for what B.C. and Coastal GasLink have done to their lands and people. But for now the Eby government considers this a winning template – and they’re betting on CRU to crush opposition to future pipelines.