Nunavut wants to stop relying on other police forces to investigate RCMP shootings

The government of Nunavut is affirming its intention to create a civilian police oversight body after a recent review of a shooting death of an Inuk man.

Comment comes after Ottawa Police Service found no wrongdoing in RCMP fatal shooting of Inuk man

Territorial Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak says it's a priority for her government to stop relying on other police forces to investigate the actions of the RCMP. (David Gunn/CBC)

Nunavut is preparing legislation to create a civilian police review agency, after a recent investigation of a shooting death of an Inuk man released almost no information about what happened.

"We are actively discussing partnerships with civilian lead investigative bodies and will soon bring forward the legislative changes required to ensure a civilian body has full statutory authority to conduct investigations in the territory," Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said in an email. 

Ehaloak, who has said before that she supports civilian reviews, made the promise after the Ottawa Police Service released results of an investigation into the shooting death of Attachie Ashoona in Kinngait, Nunavut, on Feb. 27.

Investigators found officers "did not exceed the use of force necessary to control the situation."

No information on the circumstances was released. Ottawa police said they interviewed five RCMP officers and 10 people from the community, but there was silence on what Ashoona was doing or why the officers fired their guns.

Ashoona's name wasn't released until this week. 

Where do we see crime? ... We see that in Nunavut because of the lack of basic human needs being met.- Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Nunavut MP

"They're doing what the current system currently allows," said Benson Cowan, head of Nunavut's legal aid society. "All it does is erode trust in the institutions that are so important."

Kinngait Mayor Timoon Toonoo confirmed council hadn't received any information on the investigation.

"We haven't got anything," he said.

Cowan said the review may have been thorough and complete. But nobody except the investigators know that. 

"I don't think anyone would look at this and say this would build trust."

'Less than the bare minimum for Inuit,' MP says 

Trust between Inuit and RCMP has been an issue for a long time.

"Nunavummiut have expressed the desire to move away from police-led investigations into serious incidents involving members of the RCMP," Minister Ehaloak said.

Northern media report there are at least six current investigations into RCMP behaviour. Several Arctic politicians have
called for body cameras on Mounties.

In June, video showed an apparently intoxicated Inuk man being knocked over by the door of a slowly moving police vehicle before he was arrested. He was taken to the detachment lockup where he was allegedly badly beaten by a fellow prisoner. The man was never charged.

There are historic grievances as well. The force has been criticized for its role in ushering Inuit into communities and
killing sled dogs that would have allowed them to leave.

Nunavut RCMP were not available for comment. 

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Nunavut's MP, urged Minister Ehaloak to look at other solutions to policing problems in Nunavut, pointing to Indigenous police services in other parts of Canada. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

New Democrat Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said civilian oversight of police would be a good thing.

"Where do we see violence? Where do we see crime? We see that where there is poverty ... We see that in Nunavut because of the lack of basic human needs being met."

She urged Ehaloak to look at other solutions to policing problems in Nunavut, pointing to Indigenous police services in other parts of Canada.

Qaqqaq said the federal government needs to step up to ease ills, such as poor housing, behind many of Nunavut's social and criminal problems.

"The federal government is doing less than the bare minimum for Inuit," she said.

CBC recently collected and analyzed data that showed Inuit in Nunavut are dying during interactions with police at a rate significantly higher than in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Ontario.

CBC also found that between 1999, when Nunavut was created, and 2009, there were three police-related deaths in the territory, according to the territory's chief coroner's office.

Between 2010 and July 2020, there have been 13 police-related deaths, for a total of 16 deaths in 21 years. 

"It looks like there's something systematic here," Anthony Doob, a professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto with 40 year's experience analyzing crime statistics, told CBC News earlier this summer. 

With files from CBC News