A confrontation that ended with the violent arrest of a northern Alberta First Nations chief by an array of RCMP officers in the early morning hours in a parking lot in the town of Fort McMurray in March took another turn in a provincial courtroom on Wednesday..
Prosecutors said they were dropping criminal charges–resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer–they had filed against Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
“I thank the prosecutor for what I think is a wise and just decision,” Adam’s lawyer, Brian Beresh, told the court.
In a news conference later, Beresh said the move validates Adam’s view that the arrest was “excessive, unreasonable and unwarranted.”
“It is clear that his race played a role in the police decision to charge,” Beresh said, adding that Adam believes the charges were laid as a “police shield to their aggressive and abusive conduct.”
Following the decision, Adam told reporters that if he had his way, the RCMP would be removed from all “reserves across the country and we should have our own police force.”
The ramifications of the confrontation will be felt for years as Canada begins to focus more on relations between First Nations and people of colour across the country.
But it appears Adam and his family–at least for now–are free to return to something resembling a normal life, following an unwelcome turn in the media spotlight this spring.
That glare took hold after he called a press conference in early June where he alleged that Wood Buffalo RCMP officers beat and arrested him as he, his wife, Freda Courtoreille, and their niece were leaving a local casino in downtown Fort McMurray around 2 a.m. on March 10.
Pictures–that Adam shared at the press conference–as well as dashcam video that later emerged–shocked many Canadians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and helped propel a public debate between the prime minister and the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, about the nature of racism on the force.
After saying racism on the force was the result of “unconscious bias,” Lucki walked her comments back following criticism from Indigenious leaders, including Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
RCMP dashcam footage (click here for full video), obtained by CBC News, showed an arriving officer jump-tackling the chief to the ground without warning, punching him in the head and putting him in a chokehold.
“I think that what happened to me is an eye-opener for everyone across this country,” Adam said following Wednesday’s court hearing.
“To assault a chief and think that it would not get international attention is somewhat frightening.”
On Wednesday, RCMP spokesman Fraser Logan sent a statement to the court acknowledging that Crown prosecutors had dropped the charges, but otherwise declined to comment on the case.
In a statement, an Alberta Justice spokesperson said the Crown withdrew the two charges after examining the available evidence, including the “disclosure of additional relevant material.”
The statement said the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service “has no comment on the actions of the police.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Bellegarde said he was grateful Adam’s nightmare was over.
“He should not have been charged in the first place,” Bellegarde said, urging investigators to complete their work “as expeditiously as possible, because the excessive use of force is not acceptable from any police force across Canada.”
Meanwhile, Beresh noted that the officer who tackled Adam, Const. Simon Seguin, is going to trial on Sept. 30 on charges of assault, mischief and unlawfully being in a dwelling house, related to an incident from August of last year.
Seguin “remains on full duty, not suspended, not fired, in full duty allowing him to carry a firearm,” Beresh said.
Logan, the RCMP spokesperson, said the charges against Seguin were laid nine days after an off-duty incident last August, when Seguin had an altercation with two occupants of a house. He had a personal connection to one of the people.
Logan said an internal evaluation had determined Seguin should not be pulled off the job.
The RCMP says it is limited in its ability to comment because the file is being investigated by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the province’s police watchdog.
With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press, RCI