Video of RCMP hitting Inuk man with truck shows police choosing violence over protection, says lawyer
Indigenous peoples' 'fractured' relationship with RCMP marked by fear, says Lori Idlout
In a week where an RCMP officer was captured hitting an Inuk man with the door of a pickup truck, and an Indigenous woman was fatally shot by police in New Brunswick, an Inuk lawyer says the troubled relationship between Indigenous communities and police goes beyond mistrust.
"There is definitely not just a lack of trust, but there is also fear that we have against the RCMP," said Lori Idlout, a lawyer based in Iqaluit.
That fear comes from knowing the potentially excessive response to minor infractions, she told The Current's Matt Galloway.
"There is a long history with Inuit and the RCMP, and from the beginning, the relationship was a fractured one … it was one of suppression, oppression," she said.
A video shot Monday in Kinngait, Nunavut, shows a police officer using the door of an RCMP truck to knock the Inuk man over before he is arrested by five police officers. The man had been reported to police as "an intoxicated male who was reported to be fighting with others," but the video shows him alone.
The RCMP removed an officer from the community and launched two separate investigations into the violent arrest. The organization also announced Thursday that they would review allegations that the man had been assaulted by another inmate while in police custody. The man was medevaced to Iqaluit for further medical evaluation and has since left hospital. RCMP did not lay any charges against him.
Idlout said the video left her shocked and outraged.
"It really just affirmed for me some of the stories that we've heard in media about the police and their treatment towards Indigenous people, black people, just vulnerable groups," she said.
"Rather than protecting them, RCMP officers are choosing to behave in enforcement that damages our view of them because of the violence that they're allowed to practise."
In an emailed statement to The Current, the RCMP said it "takes the conduct of our officers seriously and want to assure the public we have confidence in the process of an external investigation to determine the circumstances of the event, and whether criminal charges should be sworn against the officer."
Idlout said she's had both positive and negative experiences with police, from the RCMP removing her from her mother as a child, to the RCMP playing a role in reuniting them.
"There is both a difficult and kind of a forgiving story that I can have with the RCMP," she said.
"But I tend to want to stand with my fellow Inuit, with my fellow Indigenous people and vulnerable peoples, and say that we need better ways to make sure that we're being protected."
Body cameras needed for accountability: mayor
Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell wants police in the North to wear body cams, arguing that video can be key to verifying complaints.
"If you had a video to be able to say that did or didn't happen, it holds the RCMP member accountable and it holds the public accountable," said Bell, who is also head of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities
"I think those stories might change sometimes, or they might not become stories because the video is there. Or it becomes real news because the video is there and an officer was wrong."
While experts have raised concerns that police can simply choose to turn cameras off, and the footage provided is also subject to interpretation, Bell said costs have so far stopped the RCMP from outfitting their officers.
Idlout thinks officers "aren't being trained in a way to respect vulnerable communities."
Recruiting RCMP officers from Inuit or Indigenous communities would help, as it would offer common history and a shared language as tools to help de-escalate a situation, she said.
In 2019, CBC News reported just three of Nunavut's 131 officers were Inuit, and the RCMP has not recruited an Inuk officer in 15 years.
Idlout says many people wouldn't want to join an organization they link to intergenerational trauma, fear and mistrust.
Bell says the federal government needs to "really examine and do some justice reform across the country."
"Most, if not all policies and laws are just not working today in today's world, and we need to make sure that we change that," he said.
Pattern of 'abuse of power'
On Thursday, Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, was fatally shot by police during a wellness check in Edmundston, N.B.
In a statement, the Edmundston Police Force said Moore had threatened police with a knife, and the officer who fired had no choice but to defend himself. The police promised an independent review of the shooting.
Moore's half-sister, Melinda Martin, described her as a funny, bubbly person, who "would never hold a knife."
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said he had watched the reports from Nunavut and New Brunswick with "disgust."
"I'm pissed. I'm outraged," he said in Ottawa Friday.
"I don't understand how someone dies during a wellness check? Police serve Canadians and Indigenous peoples of Canada. Not the opposite. These independent inquires need to bring justice," said Miller.
“A car door is not a proper police tactic...I don’t understand how someone dies during a wellness check,” said <a href="https://twitter.com/MarcMillerVM?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MarcMillerVM</a> about recent incidents of police violence against Indigenous people. “I’m pissed, I’m outraged. There needs to be a full accounting of what has gone on.” <a href="https://t.co/cAVe3O181V">pic.twitter.com/cAVe3O181V</a>—@PnPCBC
Myra Tait, an instructor of Indigenous justice issues at the University of Winnipeg, said the incidents are part of a wider pattern of "abuse of power" that dates back centuries in Canada.
That pattern "characterizes the relationship of Canada, not only with Indigenous people, but immigrant people, people of colour," said Tait, a member of the Berens River First Nation.
"Frankly, this country was established on that abuse of power."
She thinks that Canada must "begin to deal with the structural racism, and the systemic racism at a policy level, at a legal level, then we have some potential for change."
People in Canada are ready for that conversation, she said, but warned the situation "is not going to get better" until that happens.
"We will continue to see the outcry of people who have been oppressed by the law," she said.
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Alex Zabjek, Rachel Levy-McLaughlin and Samira Mohyeddin.