Inuit leaders, feds and RCMP eye police body camera pilot project in Nunavut

Nunavut Mounties could finally be equipped with body cameras. At least, that's what Inuit leaders along with federal leaders and RCMP members discussed at a roundtable meeting last week.

'Frankly, I don't care [where the money comes from]. I just want it to happen,' says Nunavut MLA

Federal and Nunavut leaders, along with RCMP members, are eyeing officer body cameras like this one, worn by an officer in Calgary, as a pilot project. (CBC)

Nunavut Mounties could finally be equipped with body cameras.

At least, that's what Inuit leaders along with federal leaders and RCMP members discussed at a roundtable meeting last week.

Participants, which also included federal and territorial ministers as well as Inuit and Nunavut leaders, agreed body cameras would not immediately establish a trusting relationship between RCMP and Inuit during the June 19 discussion.

But they also agreed this was a good — and necessary — first step.

"I'm optimistic that the political will seems to be there, coming from the very highest office in the land — the Prime Minister's Office," John Main, Nunavut MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, told CBC News.

Inuit leaders, such as David Qamaniq, whose son died while interacting with police in 2017, have been calling for body cameras for the last few years.

The roundtable, organized by Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, showed federal leaders siding with Inuit and Nunavut leaders on moving a pilot project in Nunavut forward, according to a news release from Patterson.

"I don't see why, in say one or two years time, we wouldn't have body cameras on every single officer in Nunavut," Main said.

Notoriously slow federal procurement procedures along with cost-sharing negotiations between the Nunavut and the federal governments could bog things down, Main added.

And ultimately, more money will have to be allocated for this go ahead, but Main said he remained optimistic.

"Frankly, I don't care [where the money comes from]. I just want it to happen."

'You can't put a cost on [human] lives' 

The cost of the cameras is almost negligible compared to the cost of recording and managing the data as well as paying for the software to do so, Senator Vern White told CBC News.

The Kativik Regional Police Force in Nunavik, for example, has run a pilot project in six communities since January, the news release said.

The project has seen a reduction in use of force incidents, said Patterson's office.

But the upfront cost to deploy body cameras to all 14 Nunavik communities would be around $100,000, with an additional $25,000 per year to maintain, said the release.

White, an Ontario senator appointed by the Conservative Party who served with the RCMP in the North for 20 years, said virtually every police officer and member of the public he's spoken to agrees on the value of body cameras for officers.

It's not an easy sell to governments, however, especially right now with the public outcry to defund the police.

"We don't have enough money to deal with mental illness, addictions...all of these health issues that we're currently seeing in our criminal justice system," White said.

Participants at the roundtable agreed, however, that "you can't put a cost on [human] lives," it says in the release.

And an educational campaign on how the body cameras actually work would be needed for both officers and the public, he added.

For example, officers only turn the cameras on when engaging with the public, said White.

"Of course in part this is being requested by the public because they have trust issues. So you have to build that trust," White said.

'If you're not representative, it's impossible to serve'

The first and most important step toward establishing that trust is a police force that is representative of those it is policing, said White.

That means the RCMP needs to hire more Inuit.

"If you're not representative, it's impossible to serve," White said.

That lack of representation, along with the lack of historical awareness and cultural sensitivity by Nunavut RCMP, has deadly consequences for Nunavummiut, the territory's MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq told CBC News.

"People are dying [during police interactions] and we can't have that happen. We have to have those tough conversations because ultimately this is life and death sometimes for people," Qaqqaq said.

The high rates of police violence in Nunavut are a direct result of the historical injustices experienced by Inuit at the hands of not only the RCMP but other professionals who generally stay a short time without learning much about Inuit culture, she added.

The discussion on body cameras needs to include these larger complex subjects, Qaqqaq said.

"It's a good starting point, but I think it also gives the opportunity to the federal government to give us a lot of excuses to make delays after delays," she said.

The RCMP said at the roundtable that they are in the beginning stages of researching technical solutions for Nunavut's unique needs, according to the release.

The RCMP did not give a timeline for rolling a pilot project in Nunavut out.