National RCMP watchdog launches review into arrest of Alberta teen with autism

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP has launched an investigation into the arrest and detention of an Alberta teenager with autism who was apprehended at a playground in October. 

Ryley Bauman, 16, arrested by officers who thought he was a man impaired by drugs

A woman with red hair speaks to a teenage boy whose face cannot be seen.
Sixteen-year-old Ryley Bauman and his mother, Laura Hawthorne, at a playground. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC) will investigate Ryley's arrest by RCMP. (David Bajer/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains descriptions of self-harm.

The national watchdog agency for the RCMP has launched an investigation into the arrest and detention of an Alberta teenager with autism who was apprehended at a playground in October. 

In a statement Tuesday, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (CRCC) said it is investigating the arrest and detention of 16-year-old Ryley Bauman. 

Ryley, who is non-verbal, was arrested by RCMP on Oct. 2 in St. Albert, outside Edmonton, and later taken to hospital after repeatedly harming himself while in police custody. 

RCMP said the teen was arrested as a suspect after police received 911 calls about a man "exhibiting erratic behaviour."

The case is among a series of high-profile arrests across the country in recent months involving young people with autism who are non-verbal, including a 19-year-old in Mississauga, Ont. and an 18-year-old in a Montreal suburb. Both were taken to hospital after police used stun guns on them.

Michelaine Lahaie, chairperson of the complaints commission, initiated the complaint into Ryley's arrest and detention. The investigation will look into these aspects of the case:

  • Examine the RCMP's response to the call for service and if proper supervision and accommodations were provided to Ryley throughout the entire incident in light of his neurodiversity, as required under the Canadian Human Rights Act

  • Examine if reasonable steps were taken to prevent Ryley from self-harming while in custody or when providing medical care.

  • Examine if training is provided to members on recognizing and interacting with neurodiverse people, including training on distinguishing intoxication by alcohol or drugs from disabilities and how to prevent or reduce self-harming behaviour in custody.

The investigation will also examine if the RCMP has national and divisional policies and guidelines pertaining to interactions with people with neurodiversity.

The investigation will make findings and recommendations to address "any deficiencies" in the RCMP members' conduct.

The commission, which is independent, is called on hundreds of time each year to investigate citizen complaints about the RCMP.

The chairperson can also call an investigation. The results of the chair-initiated probes, along with other investigations deemed to be in the public interest, are made public. 

Ryley's arrest is also under investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the province's policing watchdog. Alberta RCMP have also launched an internal review. 

'Behaving oddly'

Ryley, who functions at the level of a seven-year-old, was playing in a park behind his grandparents' house when he was detained.

An hour later, he was transferred from a police holding cell to hospital where he was treated for soft-tissue injuries to his head, face, back and wrists.

RCMP have said they believed Ryley was a man impaired by drugs. However, in an Oct. 19 news release, ASIRT said RCMP were told before they encountered Ryley that he could have a disability.

"RCMP received a report that a 'younger male' in his 'early 20s' was behaving oddly in the playground," ASIRT said. 

"The caller thought that the male could have 'some severe handicap' or possibly be on drugs, and should not be left in the playground alone. Police were dispatched for a suspicious male who was either on drugs or handicapped."

No charges were laid against Ryley and none are being considered, RCMP said.

Ryley's parents say he remains traumatized by his encounter with police.

Other arrests 

Similar cases are under review outside Alberta. 

Abdullah Darwich, a 19-year-old with autism, was arrested by officers on Nov. 4  in Mississauga, Ont., after neighbours spotted him in a pile of leaves.

Peel police say it will undergo an internal review after officers used a stun gun on Darwich, sending him to hospital.

Darwich, who is non-verbal, was Tasered and handcuffed despite the fact that he was on a vulnerable persons registry.

The arrest left him cut, bruised and, according to his father, "terrified of everything."

Earlier this month, Brandon-Lee Paris, an 18-year-old with autism who is non-verbal, was taken to hospital following an encounter with police in Mascouche, Que., a Montreal suburb.

Police used a stun gun to subdue him after he ran away from a government-run centre for people with developmental disabilities.

His mother told CBC that police were aware that her son is on the autism spectrum and non-verbal. She planned to file a complaint with the police ethics commission.

Advocates say the string of recent cases highlights the need for officers to be better trained to deal with people who have developmental disabilities.

If you know someone who is struggling with self-harm, help is available. For more information and resources visit http://www.sioutreach.org


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.