Chief Allan Adam is free of charges and says Canada can no longer ignore systemic racism
'Don't sweep it under the rug. Don't let it collect dust on the shelf. Let's deal with it'
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam says he went public with his story of being tackled and punched by an RCMP officer because his wife and mother always told him: "Stand up for what you believe in and always tell the truth."
A Crown prosecutor dropped charges against Adam on Tuesday of resisting arrest and assaulting police. RCMP stopped Adam in a casino parking lot in Fort McMurray, Alta., on March 10 over an expired license plate.
His case gained national attention after dashcam video of the arrest showed an officer tackling Adam to the ground without warning, punching him in the head and putting him in a chokehold. Alberta's provincial police watchdog is investigating.
The news comes as people in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere are protesting police brutality and police killings of Black, Indigenous and racialized people.
In recent weeks, police in Canada have come under scrutiny for the police shooting of a Pakistani man in mental distress in Mississauga, two police shootings of Indigenous people in New Brunswick, video showing an RCMP officer hitting an Inuk man with a truck door in Nunavut, and the death of a Black-Indigenous woman in Toronto who fell from a balcony during a police encounter.
Chief Adam spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off on Wednesday. Here is part of their conversation.
Chief Adam, how did it feel to hear the judge throw out these charges against you?
It felt really good and I was overwhelmed by the fact that justice has been served because all along, my wife [and I] knew that the charges that were put against us were wrong.
I think many people have seen the video of your arrest and certainly have seen the photos of your face. It's hard to recognize you as the same person you are today. Why did you decide that you wanted people to see that? Why did you make that image public?
When I was released the morning in question of March 10th and when I was given my phone back, my first intentions were to take the picture of my face so I would never forget what had happened to me at the hands of the RCMP, and not knowing that picture was going to be broadcast nationally and worldwide and given that kind of attention it was given.
Why did you delay the time that you actually put that out publicly?
If I was to bring this out in the public, there would be public tension going and there would be mass protests all over in Canada.
While we had a pandemic just brewing, that would have this escalated the pandemic even further … so I decided with my wife that we would only bring this out after the pandemic calms down.
But then you felt people had to see it … in context of what happened to George Floyd, is that right?
When [the protests] started boiling into Canada, not knowing where this was going to go and what the outcome was going to be, you know, I spoke with my staff members, and then we got on the phone and we started talking with my lawyer, Brian, and we all came to a conclusion that this would be the right time for it to come out because everything was coming out in regards to Black Lives Matter.
In Canada and around the world, Aboriginal people tend to be forgotten, and it's time now that we raise that bar because of what happened to me.
The video that the RCMP eventually released — the dash cam video that they said first showed nothing, they said the response to the incident had been reasonable — but then what we see in that, where it begins, is that you, it appears, are moving a baby seat out of position so you and your wife can give a ride home to somebody else. You're trying to find out what the problem is. Did you have any expectation at that moment that it would end with the bruising you took on the parking lot grounds there about 11 minutes later?
No, I didn't predict that that was going to happen.
I'm always on the phone on a daily matter with government officials, and I knew that they were going to call the pandemic and I knew that they were going to close all the outlets. So I thought to myself, well, you know, I'll let my wife go downtown and go do what she wants to do for a bit, and I'd go sit with her and [keep her] company.
And when all that happened, we were all happy. We were going home. We were full of smiles. There was nobody in harm's way. I wasn't going to harm anybody. My wife wasn't going to harm anybody. And all we had to do was just take a 15-minute ride from the casino and we would have been home.
Eleven minutes later, I was being thrown inside the RCMP vehicle, all beaten up and bruised.
And this was over the fact that your license plate had expired. This is something that would [get you] a $310 dollar ticket. Is that right?
It just goes to the fact that because I'm First Nation, my wife's First Nation, they're going to throw every book at us that's going to hold us down.
They pick a fight with Chief Adam, and Chief Adam is not going to stand by and let an organization flex their muscle in regards to how they treat people in the public.
Because my wife always tells me straight out, and my momma always told me this when I was growing up: Stand up for what you believe in and always tell the truth.
It's still a sad day in Canada, but it's a brighter future coming ahead, because now that all these things are out before us, it's best not let it go away.- Chief Allan Adam, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
The moment when it seems to escalate is when they are getting pretty rough with your wife. Is that the moment when you felt that you just had to stand up?
That was the moment I had to stand up, because at that point in time, you know, the remarks was, "Get out the vehicle, I'm placing you under arrest." What led up to placing my wife under arrest? I cannot understand.
You're on the ground, you tell them "I am the chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation." A number of people have remarked that if you were saying "I am the mayor of Edmonton" that things would have been different. Do you think that's true?
Well, let me put it to you this way. If I was the prime minister of Canada, the RCMP wouldn't be hitting me.
This is the context. This is what people need to, I guess, understand, what you have been trying to explain is that ... to understand what happened, it can't be seen in isolation of what happens to Indigenous people in this country.
It's still a sad day in Canada, but it's a brighter future coming ahead, because now that all these things are out before us, it's best not let it go away. Don't sweep it under the rug. Don't let it collect dust on the shelf. Let's deal with it. The only way we can deal with systemic racism is … head on.
Systemic racism will always exist because we just brush it to the side, and we cannot allow that to happen any more.
The commissioner of the RCMP, Brenda Lucki, at the House of Commons hearing, she said there is systemic racism in the RCMP. But yesterday, when she was asked to give an example of it in the forces, she couldn't really come up with an answer. What does that say to you?
That tells me that she is misinformed and she doesn't clearly understand what she is dealing with as commissioner.
The other thing you learned today was that [Const. Simon Seguin], the officer who tackled you to the ground, who arrives and pushes you to the ground there and arrests you, was already facing charges related to another incident that took place last August. What do you think should happen to that officer now?
I can't answer that question. That question has to be answered by [Wood Buffalo RCMP] Superintendent Lorna Dicks, who is his commanding officer. That's where it has to go, or else it's got to go all the way to the commissioner of Alberta. And if you hear the deputy commissioner saying that there is no systemic racism in Alberta, well then we got a problem there, too.
What do you want Canadians to understand from what happened to you?
What I want Canadians to understand is that we as Aboriginal people ... we want to be treated like civilized people.
We feed our family. We go to work. We work hard. Some of our people work nonstop every day.
We want to be accepted into Canada the way we accepted the Europeans into Canada society itself.
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News and Reuters. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Edited for length and clarity.