Investigation launched after northern Alberta chief accuses RCMP of assault

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam says Wood Buffalo RCMP officers beat and arrested him in a Fort McMurray parking lot earlier this year. Alberta's Serious Incident Response Team has launched an investigation into the allegations of assault and wrongful arrest made by Adam.

Alberta's Serious Incident Response Team looking into allegations made by Allan Adam

At a press conference on June 6, 2020, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam alleged Wood Buffalo RCMP officers assaulted him in a Fort McMurray parking lot earlier this year. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam says Wood Buffalo RCMP officers beat and arrested him in a Fort McMurray parking lot earlier this year — an allegation that is now being investigated by Alberta's Serious Incident Response Team. 

At a press conference Saturday, Adam said he was assaulted by RCMP officers when he, his wife Freda Courtoreille and their niece as they were leaving a local casino in downtown Fort McMurray around 2 a.m. on March 10.

Adam says the registration on his truck was expired, but says the situation escalated when he began asking officers about what was happening. He said RCMP officers manhandled his wife, and then began to beat him.

"I dropped to my knees, and slowly I could feel I was going unconscious but all I could remember ... blood was just gushing out of my mouth," he said.

He said he was fighting to maintain consciousness, and could feel someone hitting him in the back.

Northern Alberta chief says he was assaulted during arrest

3 years ago
Duration 3:44
Featured VideoWARNING: Explicit audio. Two citizens filmed a March 10, 2020 arrest during which Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam says Wood Buffalo RCMP officers assaulted him. RCMP have said superiors reviewed footage of the incident and deemed the officers' actions reasonable.

"I yelled out, 'What is going on? I'm the chief of ACFN. Why are you guys doing this?'" Adam said.

Adam provided a photograph of himself with a bruised and bloody face. He is calling for the federal government to investigate.

He said if he wasn't a member of a minority group, he believes he wouldn't have been subjected to violence for having expired registration. He said he sees it as a part of broader harassment of minorities by police across Canada.

"That has to stop. Enough is enough," Adam said.

"I have a voice, and I am not scared to voice ... [what] happened to my wife, and what happened to me."

ASIRT investigating

Sue Hughson, the executive director of ASIRT, told CBC News that after a discussion with the province's director of law enforcement, it had been decided late Saturday afternoon to begin the investigation into the allegations of assault and wrongful arrest made by Adam.

In an interview, director of law enforcement Bill Sweeney said he decided to order the investigation because Adam had made an allegation that is of a criminal nature. 

"He is claiming that he has been assaulted," Sweeney said, referring to a photo of Adam provided to the media that shows a swollen eye and bruising. "And he's alleged that he was assaulted and that it was an unlawful arrest and that falls within the parameters of sensitivity of [Section 46.1 of Alberta's Police Act.]

Watch | Investigation launched after Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief says RCMP assaulted him:

Investigation launched after First Nations chief says RCMP assaulted him

3 years ago
Duration 2:24
Featured VideoAthabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam says RCMP beat and arrested him earlier this year when officers stopped him over his truck's registration. Alberta's Serious Incident Response Team is now investigating.

"We thought it was in the best interest to have ASIRT conduct the investigation." 

RCMP said Saturday that the incident was captured on an in-car video system in the police, and that after a review by superiors, it was determined that the officers' actions were "reasonable and did not meet the threshold for an external investigation."

In an emailed statement, Wood Buffalo RCMP said officers initiated a traffic stop on an unoccupied and idling vehicle with an expired plate at about 2 a.m.

"Allan Adam was one of the occupants who returned to the vehicle at which point a confrontation occurred," police wrote. "During the incident, Adam was being placed under arrest and resisted. The members were required to use force to effect the arrest."

Police said Adam has been charged with one count each of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer, and that he is scheduled to appear in Wood Buffalo provincial court on July 2.

Adam's lawyer Brian Beresh said Courtoreille was also arrested for obstruction but was never charged. He described what happened as a clear case of police brutality, and said the vast majority of people who are stopped for an expired license are given a warning or officers simply follow the person home and ensure the vehicle is parked.

Two citizen videos of Adam's arrest were shown at the press conference. Beresh said RCMP have clearer video of the incident, and called on the police to release that footage.

"We want a full investigation of this case by an independent police force, not the RCMP," Beresh said. He said they also want the officer accused of assaulting Adam to be suspended, and called for all officers to wear body cameras. 

"This is one of the clearest cases of unnecessary police brutality," said Beresh. 

'Should never have happened'

Adam was supported at the press conference by a number of other Alberta chiefs and Indigenous leaders, including Assembly of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras, who said she was deeply hurt, angered, and saddened by what happened to Adam.

"The total disregard and disrespect of one of our esteemed leaders is appalling. And that should never have happened," she said.

Poitras said the community deserves answers about what happened.

"We need a fair, independent investigation that will look into why this situation escalated the way that it did. The RCMP must hold its officers accountable if there's any misconduct found," she said. 

Chipewyan Prairie First Nation Chief Vern Janvier said he was horrified when Adam told him what had happened, and encouraged him to share the story.

"We say that Canada has no discrimination. No, no. We live in a very, very racist country," Janvier said. 

Adam was re-elected as chief of the northern First Nation last October. He was first elected as chief in 2007, and served as a councillor for ACFN for four years prior to that.

In a written statement, the office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness said that they were "deeply disturbed" by the graphic photo and videos of the use of force.

"People across the country have serious questions about this incident, and they deserve fulsome answers. While we cannot comment on a specific case that is before the courts, we will be following the developments of these serious and troubling claims closely," the statement reads.

"There have been a number of shocking incidents this week alone which serve as a stark reminder of this fact and our need to do much better. Each of us has a significant role to play to ensure our path forward as Canadians is bias-free."