Calgary·Video

'I can't breathe': Calgary woman alleges excessive force in filing police complaint

A Calgary woman has filed a complaint alleging excessive use of force against two officers over an incident in October, sharing a video with CBC News which shows her lying on the ground topped by two police officers, one with a knee on her back or neck, as she repeatedly says, "I can't breathe."

Tara Yaschuk, 51, was arrested in her Springbank Hill home in October 2019.

Watch a Calgary woman being detained by police with what she says was excessive force

CBC News Calgary

1 year ago
3:17
Tara Yaschuk says the incident started when she mistakenly thought her car was stolen and called 911 (A name spoken in the video has been obscured at the family’s request.) 3:17

A woman has filed a complaint alleging excessive use of force by Calgary police over an incident in October, sharing a video with CBC News that shows her lying on the ground topped by two officers, one with a knee on her back or neck, as she repeatedly says, "I can't breathe."

Tara Yaschuk, 51, was arrested in her Springbank Hill home in October 2019.

  • Watch Tara Yaschuk being detained with what she says was excessive force by two Calgary police officers in the video at the top of this story

Police were dispatched to the family's home that night after the family called 911, mistakenly believing their vehicle had been stolen. The officers were not invited into the house.

A Police Act complaint was filed with the Calgary police chief on Sunday, alleging excessive use of force and asking that assault charges be laid against the two officers who arrested Yaschuk.

Yaschuk's lawyer, David Chow, calls the arrest "entirely unnecessary, abusive and unlawful."

"Ms. Yaschuk's motive for bringing this case to light at this time is to support the public outcry for police reform," said Chow in a written statement from the family provided to CBC News. 

"She requests a formal and independent investigation into this incident."

Police will investigate

Chow says Yaschuk, who is white, is coming forward now in solidarity with demands for police reform ignited in part by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25 after a police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes while he repeatedly told them he couldn't breathe. 

Floyd's death, just one in a long line of high-profile killings of Black people involving police, helped fuel widespread demonstrations over police brutality and racism first throughout the United States, then in Canada and elsewhere around the world including several marches involving thousands of people in Calgary.

In a written statement, the Calgary Police Service confirmed it received Yaschuk's complaint Sunday night. 

"A thorough investigation will be conducted using all available evidence including video from the incident captured by the family," CPS says in its statement.

"We will keep the complainant up to date with the investigation on a regular basis. However, it would be inappropriate to comment further in the media until the investigation has been completed."

Officers 'pushed their way' into house, family says

On Oct. 21, 2019, Yaschuk and her partner were out watching election results roll in at a bar. 

They used the Keys Please driver service to get a ride home and, at some point in the night, noticed a vehicle was missing from their driveway.

It was Yaschuk herself who called police, believing her car had been stolen. In fact, her son had used it to run an errand and returned while she was still on the line with the 911 operator. 

At one point during the 911 call, Yaschuk's partner can be heard in the background scolding his stepson in what the family describes as a hyperbolic comment along the lines of "I'm going to strangle you."

The complaint says her son, whom CBC News has agreed not to name at her lawyer's request, answered the door when the police arrived. Yaschuk alleges in her complaint that the officers — identified only as Constables M. Lavictoire and G. Desjardins — refused to listen to her son explain the false alarm over the missing car and "immediately pushed their way into the family home" despite being told they weren't invited in.

'I am going to arrest somebody'

The officers are told the same thing by Yaschuk's partner but proceed upstairs and into Yaschuk's bedroom, where she was just coming out of her en suite washroom. Her son follows, recording the encounter on a cellphone video and protesting they weren't invited in. 

Yaschuk — who stands 5 feet 4 inches — can be heard asking on the video, "Who let you into my home?"

One of the officers responds, "Nobody."

The officers tell Yaschuk's son to leave.

Then officer identified in the complaint as Desjardins says, "Seriously, I am going to arrest somebody."

The video shows Desjardins grabbing Yaschuk's wrist and taking her to the ground.

Over and over again, Yaschuk asks why she's being arrested.

'I can't breathe'

Eventually one of the officers says, "Assault on a police officer."

"I didn't do anything," says Yaschuk.

At first, she struggles on the ground but when told to "stop resisting," she can be heard saying, "I will stop resisting," followed by, "I've stopped resisting."

For much of the encounter, the complaint says the officer identified as Lavictoire has a knee on either Yaschuk's back or neck and her face pressed into the floor.

"I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I can't breathe," she says.

The officers do not readjust their positioning. 

Held in cell for hours

Yaschuk was taken to a police district office and held in a cell for hours before she was released without charges.

The formal complaint alleges she suffered injuries, though it does not elaborate.

"What happened to Tara Yaschuk at the hands of Constables Lavictoire and Desjardins in no way retains the respect of the public they took an oath to serve and protect," reads part of the Police Act complaint.

The Yaschuk family "have historically had the utmost respect for the police" but have struggled since the October incident, according to the family's statement.

"Ms. Yaschuk, her family and counsel recognize that this complaint has yet to be fully and independently investigated ... none of the allegations have been proven in court."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Tara Yaschuk was never charged. In fact, on March 6, five months after the incident, a charge of assault with intent to resist arrest was laid against Yaschuk. Neither Yaschuk or her lawyer knew of this charge. Defence lawyer David Chow says she was never served.
    Jun 10, 2020 4:37 PM MT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach her at meghan.grant@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCMeg.

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