Report on why Nunavut RCMP struck Kinngait man with vehicle a 'betrayal': legal aid

An Ottawa Police Service investigation into why an Inuk man was struck by a Nunavut RCMP vehicle door during an arrest last spring raises more questions than it answers, the territory’s legal aid agency says.

Lack of information released on investigation undermines public's trust, Nunavut Legal Services Board says

A video shot by a bystander captured the moment an RCMP officer in a vehicle knocked over a man in Kinngait, Nunavut, on June 1. (CBC)

An investigation by the Ottawa Police Service into an incident in Kinngait, Nunavut, last spring involving an RCMP officer who struck an Inuk man with the door of a moving patrol truck during an arrest, raises more questions than it answers, the territory's legal aid agency says. 

Benson Cowan, CEO of the Nunavut Legal Services Board, said his first reaction to reading the short news release from the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) this week was one of sadness. 

"We seem to be in this endless situation where there is a complete and willful and casual disregard for basic principles of accountability," Cowan said. 

And "it boggles the mind" that neither the Nunavut government, the RCMP, nor the OPS insist on more information from the investigation, he added. 

"It's a betrayal of Nunavummiut on a basic level," said Cowan. 

The Ottawa Police issued an eight-sentence release on Wednesday that cleared RCMP of any criminal wrongdoing in the June 1 incident in Kinngait on south Baffin Island. 

The incident made national news last spring after cell phone video footage circulated on social media, leading to an outcry from territorial and federal politicians. 

"The investigation has determined that the RCMP officer driving the vehicle did not intentionally strike the community member with the vehicle door," the Wednesday release from Ottawa Police said. 

Kinngait, formerly known as Cape Dorset, is a hamlet located in Nunavut. (CBC News)

The incident does not amount to an assault under the Criminal Code "as the applied force was unintentional," the OPS said, adding that the arrest of the young Inuk man was "lawful." 

Lawful arrest of Inuk man but no charges laid

Cowan said the OPS goes out of its way to say the arrest was lawful without providing other crucial information. 

"What we see in the video is an arrest that is serious and violent. Five officers take down someone who was, at worst, publicly intoxicated, but he was never charged with anything," Cowan said. 

"The question of why the officer was driving in that manner, that close to the man, in support of an arrest with what turned out to be four other officers — that requires some explanation," he added. 

Cowan pointed to the Special Investigation Unit's practices in Ontario — after investigations into police conduct it usually publishes witness statements and lengthy explanations for its conclusions, he said. 

An Ottawa Police Service investigation cleared Nunavut RCMP of any criminal wrongdoing in the June 1 incident in Kinngait. (Matisse Harvey/CBC)

Cowan said the Nunavut government could insist on more information from the OPS. 

Mark Witzaney, acting manager of policy and communications for the territory's justice department, told CBC News the OPS provides information on investigations according to a memorandum of understanding. 

RCMP clarify findings to Kinngait mayor

"The OPS has discretion related to the appropriate release of further information pertaining to an investigation," Witzaney wrote in an email. 

Cowan disagrees. 

"By making this choice, they — the Nunavut government, the RCMP and the OPS — they are willfully disregarding any concern for the community's perspective," Cowan said. 

Kinngait mayor Timoon Toonoo told CBC that the OPS' news release didn't make much sense to him. 

But he said a conference call with Nunavut RCMP gave him the chance to ask questions about the process. 

The RCMP detachment building in Kinngait, Nunavut. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

When asked if he was given additional information not included in the OPS' news release, Toonoo said "not really." 

"It was mostly the same information, but we were able to ask questions about things we don't understand. So we understand more from the teleconference we had with the inspector from the RCMP in Iqaluit," Toonoo said. 

Two other reviews of the June incident are ongoing: an internal code of conduct review by Nunavut RCMP, and an investigation by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.