Manitoba

Altercation between officer, Indigenous girl prompts concerns about police treatment of First Nations

Video showing an altercation between an Ontario Provincial Police officer and a 14-year-old Grassy Narrows First Nation girl weeks before her death shows a need for improved relations between police and Indigenous people, a Winnipeg professor says.

Indigenous activist says police could've been gentler with girl during struggle

Azraya Kokopenace, 14, was found dead in Kenora, Ont., on April 17 after walking away from the hospital where police dropped her off. Her parents are calling for an inquest into her death. (Ontario Provincial Police)

Video showing an altercation between an Ontario Provincial Police officer and a 14-year-old Grassy Narrows First Nation girl weeks before her death shows a need for improved relations between police and Indigenous people, a Winnipeg professor says.

Azraya Kokopenace was found dead April 17, two days after OPP dropped the teen off at a hospital in Kenora, Ont. She disappeared and her body was found in the woods near the hospital.

Police haven't said why they picked her up in the first place. No foul play is suspected.

On Friday, Kokopenace's parents released footage of their daughter being restrained by a male police officer weeks before she died.

Leah Gazan, an Indigenous activist and University of Winnipeg professor, said the officer could've used less forceful tactics to restrain Kokopenace, who can be seen kicking back in the video as she and the officer struggle on the ground.

Police try to restrain Azraya Kokopenace in March, 2016 2:59

"I think we have to remember that she's a child," Gazan said. "I saw the officer put his knee in her back. She was clearly pleading to get home to see her parents, and I just think there were kinder ways that they could have dealt with the situation."

Steven Summerville, a retired Toronto police officer, said he didn't see anything too alarming in the take-down techniques used by the OPP officer in the video.

"What I'm seeing is consistent with what we call a technique with police officers in grounding, which in other words means you're trying to secure an arrest," he said. "The officer responds with what appears to be like an arm drag or securing her back down to the ground. That is consistent with law enforcement training. The reason or rational behind is it to prevent the person from moving forward or back."
Leah Gazan says more needs to be done to improve relations between First Nation people and police in Canada. (Leah Gazan / Facebook)

Gazan said at a minimum, the video illustrates that there is a lot of room for improvement with how police officers interact with Indigenous people.

"We need to get real," Gazan said. "We need to identify the fact that in Canada, there's been a lot of racialized incidents relating to policing.

"Our kids are valuable, and our kids are worth something and it's no wonder why our youth feel invisible in these systems that really don't seem to do their due diligence of care."

A spokesperson for the OPP told CBC News that it is "not appropriate for OPP to respond" to questions about the video because they're "not sure where the case is going to go."

Gazan added that she hopes the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women takes a hard look at policing practices in Canada.

With files from CBC's Jody Porter and Jill Coubrough