Politics

Trudeau has 'serious questions' after watching video of Chief Adam's arrest

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he has "serious questions" about the arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam after viewing recently released dashcam video that shows an RCMP officer jump-tackling the chief to the ground and punching him in the head.

RCMP dashcam video shows officer tackling, punching Adam during arrest

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at Rideau Cottage amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, June 12, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he has "serious questions" about the arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam after viewing recently released dashcam video that shows an RCMP officer jump-tackling the chief to the ground and punching him in the head.

"We have all now seen the shocking video of Chief Adam's arrest and we must get to the bottom of this," Trudeau said during his daily briefing in Ottawa this morning.

"Like many people, I have serious questions about what happened. The independent investigation must be transparent and be carried out so that we get answers.

"At the same time, though, we also know that this is not an isolated incident. Far too many Black Canadians and Indigenous people do not feel safe around police. It's unacceptable. And as governments, we have to change that."

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki issued a statement Friday saying she is committed to rooting out racism among the ranks. She acknowledged that, in several interviews this week, she struggled to say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP. 

"I did acknowledge that we, like others, have racism in our organization, but I did not say definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP. I should have," Lucki said. 

"As many have said, I do know that systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included. Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly."

The prime minister said Mounties themselves need to be part of the solution.

"They are people who have stepped up to serve their community," he said. "And they will be invaluable allies as we move forward to make sure that all Canadians are well-served by these institutions."

Adam went public over the weekend, alleging that he was beaten during his arrest outside a Fort McMurray, Alta., casino early the morning of March 10.

On Thursday, CBC News obtained a nearly 12-minute video of his arrest. In the video, Adam swears repeatedly at the police officers, accuses the RCMP of harassing him and removes his jacket.

WATCH | RCMP dashcam footage of Chief Allan Adam arrest:

WARNING: Video contains graphic content

RCMP dashcam footage shows the arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam in March. The video shows an arriving officer jump-tackling the chief to the ground without warning, punching him in the head and putting him in a chokehold. 5:27

About seven minutes into the incident, one officer tries to grab Adam's left arm in what looks to be an attempt to arrest him.

Then, another officer runs up and jump-tackles Adam to the ground. The second officer punches Adam in the head as he continues to struggle and, a few seconds later, places him in a chokehold.

Scheer calls video 'troubling'

An affidavit filed in court along with the video quotes the notes of Const. Simon Seguin.

"I charged at the male [Adam] with the intention of bringing him to the ground," Seguin wrote in his notes. "I struck the male as he tried to come up. He turned on his right side. I struck him using my right hand on his right side of the face.

"I wrapped my hand [left arm] around his jaw and started squeezing."

After reviewing the dashcam video of the incident, the RCMP determined the arresting officers' actions were reasonable "and did not meet the threshold for an external investigation."

But Alberta's director of law enforcement directed the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team to conduct an investigation after Adam — who faces one count each of resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer — and his lawyer made criminal allegations.

If, after an investigation, the head of ASIRT believes a criminal offence was committed, she has the power to lay criminal charges against an officer.

WATCH | Scheer 'deeply troubled' by dashcam video:

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he is 'deeply troubled' by footage that shows RCMP officers jump-tackling and punching Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adams before putting him in a choke hold. 1:16

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he was troubled by the video.

"I found it very difficult to watch. Obviously, there is an investigation going on right now so I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment beyond just saying I found it very troubling, very worrying," he said on Friday.

"I think the events of the last few days and weeks have ignited a very important conversation about the use of excessive force and the need for things like dashcams and body cams.

"I certainly support to have those types of pieces of equipment installed to ensure that when these incidents happen, we have as much information as possible to determine whether or not officers acted inappropriately, and to ensure that those who do face consequences."

The RCMP has agreed to roll out body cameras for its frontline officers, but it's not clear where the money will come from and how quickly the initiative will get underway. 

The RCMP's nascent union issued a statement today expressing concern for the Mounties involved in the incident while supporting the independent investigation.

"The National Police Federation and its membership are gravely concerned regarding the public vilification of the Wood Buffalo RCMP members involved in this incident," said president Brian Sauvé.

"Traffic stops are some of the most dangerous duties done by police. The unknowns of who the driver or passenger is, their background and intentions, as well as what may be contained within a vehicle out of sight are all risks for both police and the public.

"For this reason, it is standard preventative practice to ensure drivers or passengers do not repeatedly enter and exit a vehicle during interactions with members."

WATCH | Interview with Brian Beresh, lawyer for Chief Allan Adam;

Brian Beresh, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam's lawyer, on the video he filed in the case against his client. 6:19

Brian Beresh, Adam's lawyer, said that he entered the video into the public court file Thursday as part of a motion seeking to have the charges against Adam stayed, explaining that he wanted the video to be public. 

"So often there is a disagreement between what was observed by individuals and what was recorded. The video tells the story," Beresh told CBC News Network's Power & Politics. 

Beresh said that it is obvious no one in the RCMP "reasonably observed" the video because if they had, they would have taken action against the officers for they way they treated Adam.

He also said that Adam was objecting to the officers giving him a $310 ticket because he did not think it was justifiable. 

"He questioned that, and the problem is; when an Indigenous man questions a white police officer there is a power imbalance," said Beresh "The RCMP, if they think this is reasonable, the public will not stand for it. There has to be a reinvestigation of this entire case from an outside force."

Lucki says force needed sometimes

When asked about the incident in an interview earlier this week, Lucki said there are times when "intervention" is needed.

"Nobody likes to see pictures like that," she told the CBC's Rosemary Barton. "There is always a set of circumstances and, depending on the circumstances and the level of resistance, sometimes there are intervention actions that need to be taken.

"Obviously, we never want to see anybody get hurt when we're dealing with anybody in any an incident, but it does happen."

In that interview, and subsequent media appearances, Lucki said she's unsure about the definition of systemic racism,

"In the last couple of days I have honestly heard about 15 or 20 definitions of systemic racism," she told CBC.

"If it refers to an unconscious bias that exists ... we definitely have that in the RCMP and we are not immune to it at all. There are times when our members don't act in accordance with our core values, which includes racism, and it's those times that we have to make sure that that doesn't happen."

WATCH | Trudeau says he has confidence in RCMP Commissioner Lucki:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he still has confidence in RCMP Commissioner's Brenda Lucki's ability to implement reforms within the RCMP, but wouldn't commit to releasing disaggregated police use-of-force data when asked by reporters. 3:00

She later told the Globe and Mail that "if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don't have systemic racism."

When asked if Lucki's struggle with the term "systemic racism" might impede reform within the RCMP, Trudeau expressed confidence in his appointee.

"I think there are an awful lot of people who are learning just this week what systemic racism actually is and what it means for racialized Canadians, for Indigenous Canadians," he said.

"There are some deep changes we need to make in our institutions and we need to work with people who want to make those changes, who want to be part of the solution. And I know Commissioner Lucki is one of those."

Former commissioner Bob Paulson admitted there were racists within the ranks back in 2015 while speaking to a group of First Nations leaders.

"I understand that there are racists in my police force. I don't want them to be in my police force," Paulson said to chiefs and other First Nations delegates during the annual Assembly of First Nations meeting.

WATCH | Full dashcam video of Chief Allan Adam's arrest:

WARNING: Video contains graphic content

This RCMP dashcam shows the whole interaction between Chief Allan Adam and the RCMP outside a Fort McMurray casino in March. 11:47

With files from Charles Rusnell, Jennie Russell and Peter Zimonjic

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