Inuit family in Arctic Canada suing federal police for killing their son

Kunuk Qamaniq, 20, was shot and killed by an RCMP officer in March 2017. His family says the RCMP’s failure to invest in recruiting Inuktut-speaking officers is partly to blame. (Submitted by Leah Qamaniq)
The family of a man killed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) say the Mounties’ failure to invest in recruiting Inuktitut-speaking officers is partly to blame for their son’s death.

Kunuk Qamaniq from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, was shot and killed by an RCMP officer in March 2017. He was 20 years old.

Earlier this month his family filed a lawsuit in the Nunavut Court of Justice, seeking unspecified damages in relation to the death. The lawsuit names the RCMP, the officer who shot Qamaniq, and two other officers who “participated in the encounter.”

The jury in a November 2018 coroner’s inquest ruled the death a homicide, not a death by suicide which a lawyer representing the RCMP had unsuccessfully argued.

In the lawsuit’s statement of claim — also filed on behalf of Qamaniq’s estate — the family alleges any confrontation that arose, and the subsequent homicide, was due in part to “the lack of training of the officers involved, in particular in the areas of mental health, suicide, non-lethal confrontation and de-escalation.”

It states that the RCMP failed to “invest in, find, recruit and support RCMP officers who speak Inuktut and who have relevant Inuit community knowledge and experience.”

The lawsuit also alleges “personal and cultural biases of the officers” is to blame, as well as the failure of the RCMP to respond to and implement recommendations from coroner’s inquests from other police-involved shootings in Nunavut.

The lawsuit seeks damages for:

  • loss of expectation of life.
  • loss of future earnings.
  • loss of care, guidance and companionship.
  • pain and suffering.

The Nunavut RCMP did not respond to CBC’s request for comment by Tuesday morning, nor has it filed a statement of defence.

Qamaniq was mourning sister

On March 18, 2017, Qamaniq was walking near Pond Inlet’s graveyard area. He was grieving the one-year anniversary of his sister’s suicide.

The lawsuit alleges Qamaniq was armed because he was going rabbit hunting.

Worried he was at a risk of self-harm, Qamaniq’s parents each contacted the RCMP to advise officers that their son was at the graveyard and had been suicidal.

The lawsuit doesn’t address the confrontation between Qamaniq and the RCMP, but the November inquest heard from the officer who killed Qamaniq, who testified Qamaniq was saying police should kill him.

According to Nunatsiaq News, which covered the inquest, the officer also testified that Qamaniq turned toward the Mountie and aimed his rifle at him. It was at that point that Qamaniq was shot, the officer testified.

Qamaniq died at the health centre a short while later. The Ottawa Police Service did an external review of the shooting and an investigator testified that the officer who shot Qamaniq acted reasonably in self defence.

The jury in the coroner’s inquest ultimately made 10 recommendations in the case, including creating a recruitment plan to hire more Inuit in law enforcement.

The number of Inuit RCMP officers from Nunavut is now in the low single digits, as there have been no new recruits in more than 15 years and many have left for other jobs.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change, Eye on the Arctic special report

Finland: Police in Northern Finland overstretched, says retiring officer, YLE News

United States: Police officers in Alaska villages hired despite criminal record: report, Alaska Public Media

Nick Murray, CBC News

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