Whitehorse RCMP defend use of force in arrest of man allegedly wielding axe

Whitehorse RCMP arrested a man on Monday who they say was wielding an axe, but the incident has raised allegations online of excessive police force.

Apparent witness documented incident in social media post, calling police behaviour 'brutal'

A person in Whitehorse who witnessed some of the arrest posted this photo to Facebook, and claimed that police used excessive force when arresting the man. (Facebook)

Whitehorse RCMP are standing behind officers' use of force in the arrest of a man allegedly wielding an axe on Monday, despite an apparent witness calling their actions "brutal."

Officers responded to a report that the man was swinging the axe, hitting property and threatening people while he walked along 2nd Avenue in Whitehorse around 11:00 a.m. on Monday, according to an RCMP news release issued on Tuesday. 

Police say when they found the man in Rotary Park he was "still swinging the axe at random and appeared to be agitated."

Given the number of people at the park and along 2nd Avenue, police say they treated the incident as a high risk to public safety and approached the man "with extreme caution." An officer drew his service pistol and another drew his stun gun, but neither used their weapons, RCMP say.

It took four of them to finally control him.- RCMP Supt. Chan Daktari Dara

A person who says they witnessed some of the incident says what they saw contradicts the police account. The complainant says the man was brutally attacked by officers during the arrest. 

In a Facebook post on Monday, the person said they had filed a complaint against the RCMP for excessive force after watching officers tackle, repeatedly kick the man, and slam his head to the ground, despite the man appearing to comply with officers' orders.

The post has been widely shared and commented on. The witness has not responded to a request for an interview.

'They acted in a reasonable, measured way'

RCMP are standing behind the officers' response after being made aware of the post and photos of the arrest circulating on social media.

In an interview with CBC, Supt. Chan Daktari Dara said the 33-year-old man was "angry, incoherent and shouting." 

"I reviewed the events of what happened and in my opinion the police officers, considering the circumstances and the call, and the level of potential violence and volatility involved, I believe that they acted in a reasonable, measured way."

Dara said that while the man had dropped the axe, he walked away from officers during the arrest.

"They closed the gap and saw an opportunity to take control of the male and handcuff him," Dara said.

"Yes there was some force used. Maybe not to the extent as described from the complainant. It was applied on the arm and the side of the subject, to gain control of the person's arm."

In the press release, RCMP said the man was not harmed during the "brief struggle."

RCMP headquarters in Whitehorse. Supt. Dara encouraged the witness to come forward and report what they saw. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Dara said that with recent protests across the globe over police brutality, people may not accept police explanations for the use of force. He said suspects can sometimes display "superhuman powers" and it can take several officers to control a suspect when the person is under the influence or having a mental health episode. 

"I wasn't there, but whether he was displaying that strength or not, it took four of them [officers] to finally control him."

Dara said the RCMP in Whitehorse have not received an official complaint from the apparent witness, but said if they do they will investigate "as per normal course." He also encouraged the witness to come forward and provide their account to RCMP.

The man has been charged with possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, mischief to property not exceeding $5,000, resisting arrest and failing to comply with conditions of a probation order. 

Dara added that the full events of the arrest will be disclosed when the case goes to court.

With files from Chris Windeyer