Tribal council chief calls for charges against woman in FreshCo arrest to be dropped

“It’s unfortunate that this happened, but it can’t be a black eye on the work in reconciliation that we’re doing in the City of Saskatoon," says Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand.

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand says violence against Indigenous women needs to stop

A man who identified himself as a security guard sits on top of an Indigenous woman as he tries to force handcuffs on her in the parking lot of a grocery store in Saskatoon on Wednesday. (Jade Acikahte/Facebook)

The chief of the Saskatoon Tribal Council is calling for all charges to be dropped against a 30-year-old Indigenous woman who underwent a rough arrest in Saskatoon earlier this week, calling the allegations "ludicrous."

The arrest was recorded as it took place in the parking lot of a Saskatoon grocery store and Chief Mark Arcand said the security guard in the video went completely "overboard" during the arrest and needs to be held accountable.

"It's 2021 and systemic racism is alive in the city of Saskatoon," said Arcand, saying violence against Indigenous women needs to stop immediately.

Arcand is joining calls for the security guard to be charged and terminated, but said the issue is bigger than this one incident and added education, as opposed to violence, is needed.

Speaking outside of the Saskatoon Tribal Council offices Friday, Arcand said he believes racial profiling was a factor in the arrest, saying video of the incident caused him to be extremely angry, saying it's the most frustrated he's felt for a long time.

GRAPHIC WARNING | Federation of Soveirgn Indigenous Nations calls for guard to be fired:

GRAPHIC WARNING: Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations calls for security guard to be fired following violent arrest at Saskatoon store

2 years ago
Duration 1:16
The chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says he is angered after seeing the violent arrest of an Indigenous woman by a security guard in Saskatoon and is now calling for the security guard to be fired.

Arcand called on the store's owner and the Saskatchewan Crown prosecutors to drop the charges against the woman, saying he would come down and pay for whatever produce may have been damaged during the incident. 

As a result of the incident, the 30-year-old woman, who has not been identified, has been charged with theft and assault.

While he called the incident disgusting, he said it can't overshadow the good work that's being done in the city around reconciliation.

"It's unfortunate that this happened, but it can't be a black eye on the work in reconciliation that we're doing in the city of Saskatoon. Black eyes heal, but we've got to come together as a city," he said, noting the STC has been working hard on this front, but the public has a role to play as well. 

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand is calling for charges against a 30-year-old Indigenous woman to be dropped, saying he feels she was the victim of an assault by a security guard. (CBC)

"In this situation, this First Nations woman wasn't treated fair. She was assaulted. She was abused verbally, mentally and it's going to stop," he said.

Arcand also urged the woman to reach out to the Saskatoon Tribal Council, saying the organization has secured her a lawyer and will stand behind her as she faces the charges, and noting the council has already met with well-known Saskatoon defence attorney Brian Pfefferle.

Mayor Clark briefed on incident 

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said in an interview on Friday he's heard from numerous people across the city saying the video is representative of the lived experience of many people Indigenous people in the city, noting "there's no question that the video is very disturbing to watch."

"I've been hearing from people within the community, and particular people within the Indigenous community who speak about the fact that this is an indication of the experiences that happen too often in our city on a regular basis," he said. 

He says the work of reconciliation in Saskatoon is critical, and it's important for the community as a whole to learn from these types of experiences and understand they are taking place against a background of colonialism and systemic racism.

"It's very important that when an incident like this happens, we have to understand it happens within that context," he said, adding the effects on those who go through these experiences are very real.

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark says he was briefed on the arrest by police Chief Troy Cooper. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Clark says he has been briefed on the incident by Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper and says his government is doing the work needed to push reconciliation forward to ensure community members are not treated unfairly.

"We need to allow that investigation to unfold and also learn from the lessons and conversations that are coming out of this video to take it as a call to action for us to ensure we create the conditions that these types of incidents don't happen again in our community," he said. 

Calls for the security guard to be charged and fired from his job as a result of the incident have already been made by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations across the province.

Chief Bobby Cameron said in an interview the officer "took the law into his own hands" saying his behaviour and his use of force was unacceptable. 

Those remarks were echoed by Saskatoon Ward 1 city councillor Darren Hill. He represents the Mayfair neighbourhood where the incident took place.

He said he was "shocked" after he watched the video.

"There's nothing that could have happened in a grocery store parking lot that would have required that amount of force," Hill said. 

Councillor calls for more training 

Hill says if security guards are going to be arresting members of the public they should receive more training in terms of de-escalation tactics and cultural training. He thinks the situation would have been handled better by a member of the Saskatoon Police Service.

"We would not have seen a situation like that, I believe in this day, from our sworn officers because of the significant training they take," he said. 

An official with the firm that employs the guard, Emergency Security Management (ESM) Solutions, would not comment further on the incident on Friday aside from saying every company has processes and procedures for its employees and those will be followed.

Management at the FreshCo location where the incident took place say they've terminated their contract with ESM Solutions as a result of the incident, with the store's owner, Chris Fowler, saying in a Facebook post he was "horrified" by the incident.

Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill, right, says police would have handled the situation better. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Hill says he understands the arrest has angered members of the community and he encouraged those who are upset to write to Sobeys, FreshCo's parent company, and to call on them to make changes to ensure security guards at all their stores are properly trained.

"I would like to see people take that anger and funnel it," he said. "The more people that ask Sobeys nationally to do this, I think the result will be that much better in the end." 

The FSIN says it will advocate for the 30-year-old woman throughout the process, including civil action desired.

Investigation continues: police

On Friday morning, the Saskatoon Police Service confirmed its investigation into the matter is ongoing, but did not have any updates.

"As with any call for service, we respond with the information we have at the time," the statement said. "I can add that if we need to seek an opinion from the Crown following the investigation, we will."

The matter has reached all the way to the nation's capital.

When asked about it Friday, Marc Miller, Canada's minister of Indigenous Affairs, said he was disgusted by the video, adding these types of incidents happen far too often and he hopes "the full force of the law will be applied in this situation after a proper and due investigation."