Saskatoon mayoral candidate denounces 'Monday morning quarterbacking' of Evan Penner arrest video
In response, Indigenous advocate says no commission needed 'to tell us that what happened to Evan was violent'
Saskatoon mayoral candidate Rob Norris says people need to let the Public Complaints Commission's investigation into the arrest of Evan Penner play out first before they come to conclusions about the violence used against Penner last weekend.
The July 4 incident, which was filmed while in progress by a bystander, has re-sparked concern in the city about police use of force and the police service's treatment of Indigenous people. Some have called for the swift firing of the officers seen delivering several blows and a Tasering to Penner during the arrest.
"I think what we're seeing is some, frankly, Monday morning quarterbacking and what we need to do is move beyond speculation," Norris said. "Let's let the commission do its work. Let's get the facts."
While calling the video disturbing and distressing, Norris added, "I have no context for what I'm seeing. I don't know what's led up to it. I don't know the time frame and I have no idea of what that broader context is. That's why I think everyone's entitled to due process."
Erica Violet Lee, a representative of the Indigenous Joint Action Committee — which has spoken on behalf of Penner and his family and denounced his treatment as police brutality — said Indigenous communities are tired of waiting for reform.
"We don't need to wait for a commission to tell us that what happened to Evan was violent," Violet Lee said in response to Norris's criticism. "We see the violence with our own eyes in our communities every day."
'Trust in our police service needs to be recognized'
Norris so far has no opponent in this November's municipal election, including Charlie Clark, who has yet to announce whether he will seek a second term as mayor.
On Tuesday — a day after the Penner's arrest video was made public — Norris tweeted about Saskatoon police officers having recently saved the lives of overdose victims, after speaking in person to one of the officers. Norris also expressed general support for the police service, which he has called imperfect but still one of the best in the country.
"Saskatoon Police is doing darn difficult work. Like many in #yxe, I respect police authority and its commitment to continuous improvement. Standing w/ our police through good days & rough spots," he wrote.
On Wednesday, Norris said he did not feel his tweet was inconsistent with his statement about the need for the commission to complete its work.
"That support for the police includes support for civilian oversight and support for due diligence to ensure that everyone is treated fairly. Those three things hang together for me," he said.
On Monday, Clark said he understood how the video footage raises "real concerns" for Penner and his family, including how force was used by police.
"Also because it emphasizes the ongoing challenges that we have been talking about for some time about the need for responders, other than police, to attend situations where addictions or mental health issues are at the core," Clark wrote.
Norris criticized Clark's statement, calling it "a little bit premature."
"I'm not certain where [Clark] got the information that he put into that statement," Norris said of Clark's mention of addictions and mental health.
"What I want to do is make sure that the hardworking men and women of Saskatoon Police Service, as well as citizens across Saskatoon, understand that our police service, day in and day out, are doing really important impressive work.... As we see this incident within a broader context, that support, that trust in our police service, needs to be recognized.
"If Charlie Clark does not feel that way, then he's free to express his opinions."
Clark declined to respond to Norris's comments, referring instead to his Monday statement.
"We need to ensure there is due process," Clark wrote of the investigation into Penner's arrest, adding that it needs to be a process "Mr. Penner and the community have confidence in.
"The call for strengthened independent oversight is a specific request also made by the Board of Police Commissioners at our last meeting."
Norris said reconciliation is "near and dear to my heart" and that, if elected, he wants to chair the board and up the number of seats to allow for "increasing diversity."
"We don't want to see the relationships strained anymore either in Saskatoon or frankly anywhere else across the country," he said.
At Thursday board of police commissioners meeting, Clark said now is not the time to get divisive.
"I really do not think the best way forward is to go into this to have a divided conversation where you have the police and supporters of police on one side, and people who are against the police on [the] other side and nothing in between," Clark said.
"If you look at social media these days, some of it is breaking down that way."
Investigation into arrest now underway
The Public Complaints Commission confirmed Thursday that its investigation is underway and that it's being done by an in-house investigator as opposed to being farmed out to a Saskatchewan police service, something that commonly happens given the high number of complaints the commission receives and its small stable of investigators.
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John Clarke, the commission's director, did not confirm Thursday whether the investigator assigned to the Penner case is a former police officer and if they used to work for the Saskatoon Police Service.
"Beyond acknowledging a complaint has been received and that an investigation has been initiated, the PCC doesn't comment on ongoing investigations," Clarke said.
'I feel very, very much here for Mr. Penner'
Chris Sicotte, a Métis man from Cumberland House who's running for the Ward 3 seat in the election, said that the PCC investigator should not be a former member of the Saskatoon Police Service but still have some police background.
Sicotte echoed Norris and Clark in calling for due process in investigating Penner's arrest.
"We need to let the process start," Sicotte said, adding that if officers are fired now, it might trigger a wrongful dismissal suit or a grievance "that could likely cost taxpayers more than allowing this process to actually play itself out."
Sicott said he had a hard time watching the video and that he was left with one question.
"Did that level of force need to get to that level that quickly?"
On the other hand, the lead-up to the struggle is not seen in the video, Sicotte said.
"I feel very, very much here for Mr. Penner. I would never hope to have any of that borne upon myself, but I also feel that we need to take a look at what led to that particular incident and whether or not that use of force needed to be escalated," he said.
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At one point, it looked like Penner was trying to grab onto something of the officer's, Sicote said.
In the video — shot from behind bushes that obscures parts of the arrest — the first officer seen striking Penner is repeatedly heard ordering Penney to stop resisting. He also asks Penner to let go of his leg and radio.
"He was grabbing my belt," the officer tells his coworkers after Penner has been surrounded and subdued.
Penner has been charged with attempting to disarm a peace officer, assaulting a police officer, mischief and possession of a controlled substance.
Penner 'had no other recourse': FSIN
Penner is a member of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in northern Manitoba. He has not spoken publicly about his arrest. His family called for privacy during a Thursday news conference held by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN).
At the news conference, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said, "Here in the city of Saskatoon, we are dealing with poverty and addiction of all sorts, and to continue to punish those that are going through the system, their addictions, is not the right path."
Cameron said Penner "had no other recourse but to squirm or squirm around and try to protect himself. Little, little protection was what he was doing. Very minimal."
The video begins with the officer already straddling Penner.
"Why do you want to shoot me?" Penner asks after about a minute-and-a-half.
"I don't want to shoot you," the officer replies.
The arrest happened in Lorraine Salt's backyard on the 500 block of 11th Street East, in the city's Nutana area.
She said she spoke to Penner through a window about 10 minutes before that.
He was calm and quiet, she said.
With files from Morgan Modjeski