Police treat Aboriginal people as 'less than Canadian', Thunder Bay lawyer says
Francis Thatcher is looking into the possibility of filing a private criminal prosecution or a civil suit against the police force and the officers who arrested Bonnie Muckuck in October 2013.
Muckuck was charged with assaulting her partner and then assaulting a police officer during her arrest in Pickle Lake, Ont. The Anishinaabe woman was found not guilty on both charges by a judge who also ruled the injuries to Muckuck were caused by police at the time of her arrest.
"This sort of a situation — with an Aboriginal person showing up in front of the court, injured, but being charged themselves with assaulting police — is unfortunately not uncommon in northern Ontario, and particularly in Pickle Lake," said Thatcher, who represented Muckuck at the assault trial.
'A foreign military occupying force'
Pickle Lake is located 20 kilometres north of Mishkeegogamang First Nation, Muckuck's home community. Thatcher said he is working with the First Nation leadership to determine how best to hold the police accountable.
Things have recently improved at the detachment in Pickle Lake, but Thatcher said often police "behaved like a foreign military occupying force" in the community.
"And [they] have treated the members of Mishkeegogamang First Nation and other Aboriginal peoples as less than Canadian, and they've been regularly abused," he said.
The province's police watchdog conducted an investigation into the conduct of the officers who arrested Muckuck. The Special Investigations Unit concluded in July 2014 that no criminal charges are warranted against the officers involved.
That decision, as well as the charges against Muckuck are "a terrible injustice that needed to be fought aggressively," Thatcher said.
The provincial police are not commenting on the situation because of the possibility of further judicial proceedings, a spokesperson said.
Thatcher said he plans to have a decision by the fall about whether to pursue the case in criminal or civil court.