The federal Indigenous Services minister says he’s “outraged” and “pissed” by the continuing pattern of police violence against Indigenous people in Canada, following a video circulating of a man in Kinngait, Nunavut, who was arrested after being struck by the open door of a moving police pickup truck.
The man, who was also “viciously attacked” at an RCMP cell by another inmate following the arrest, says he wants to take legal action against the officers who arrested him.
“I’m not happy with what happened to me at the hands of the police,” said the 22-year-old man, whose identity CBC News is choosing not to reveal. He gave his interview in Inuktitut. “I want to sue those police officers and charge them as encouraged by my lawyer.”
CBC spoke to the man in person this week, after he was released from hospital in Iqaluit after being medevaced from Kinngait — a hamlet of around 1,500 people formerly known as Cape Dorset — early Tuesday morning. He is recovering from an alleged beating by another man he was paired with in a cell at the Kinngait RCMP detachment. The man who was in the cell with him has been charged with aggravated assault.
RCMP arrested the man in the video around 11:30 p.m. Monday for public intoxication. But the video of that arrest — where he is shown struck by a police vehicle and forced into a car — has left residents upset, and raising questions about police accountability in the territory.
“I saw the video, it was sad and depressing and I was worried about it,” the man said. “I think the cops that did that to me should be removed.”
The man has little recollection of the night itself and says he was drinking with a relative.
“I remember staggering around just before I got hit by the RCMP vehicle. I was told when I came to that I had been beaten up in the holding cell.”
WATCH | RCMP officer uses pickup truck to knock over man
During a press conference Friday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said he “watched in disgust” various videos of police brutality incidents in Canada recently — including the video of a man being struck by an RCMP vehicle door in Nunavut.
“A car door is not a proper police tactic. It’s a disgraceful, dehumanizing and violent act,” Miller said, then turned to the incident Thursday morning in New Brunswick where an Indigenous woman was shot dead by police during a wellness check.
“When I first saw the report, I thought it was some morbid joke.” Miller said there needs to be a full accounting of the incidents.
“I’m pissed, I’m outraged … This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself,” Miller said.
WATCH | Indigenous Services minister reacts to police action on Indigenous people
The Ottawa Police Service is en route to Nunavut now to begin an investigation into the man’s arrest. The arresting officer has since been removed from the community and Nunavut RCMP are doing their own separate investigations into the officer’s conduct and the alleged in-cell beating.
The man from the video will be approached as part of these investigations, RCMP say.
‘Behaviour that we do not condone’: RCMP
Nunavut’s V Division RCMP commanding officer says the use of force shown in the video was unnecessary.
“I was very shocked when I saw it. It’s a behaviour that we do not condone. It is not a practice that we teach,” Chief Supt. Amanda Jones told CBC News on Thursday.
She said a call would have to include a dangerous weapon and the risk of “grievous bodily harm” for an officer to justify hitting a person with a vehicle.
All of the officers on duty that night are shown in the arrest video. Jones said they made the arrest for intoxication right after responding to a call involving a firearm and while en route to a domestic violence call.
“I think they were pretty close to the file that they just left and that’s why all the members seem to be there on scene. I can’t answer why all five would want to get involved on this.”
A nurse checked on the man at the RCMP detachment because he was “agitated,” Jones said, and couldn’t be safely brought to the health centre.
As for the injuries that followed from doubling two men in a cell, Jones said RCMP policy is to keep people alone, but that there are only four cells in the Kinngait detachment, and that night it was over capacity.
Jones said initially the man was placed alone in a cell, but another man was put in with him because of the other cells, one held four men, another held two women, and a third held a man who was behaving violently.
All of the five officers working that night were out on calls when the man, who Jones referred to as “our subject struck by the police vehicle,” was attacked. The people in cells were monitored by a guard, who contacted officers to come back.
The man was later medevaced to the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit. Court documents say he was too intoxicated to defend himself from being kicked, punched and stomped on.
Should police investigate police?
This marks a sixth investigation of Nunavut’s RCMP V Division launched by the Ottawa Police Service this year.
When these investigations are done, the Ottawa police gives those reports to the Nunavut RCMP, who then provide them to the Nunavut government.
It’s the territory’s decision to release those reports or not, Jones said. They are rarely made public.
In a release Thursday evening, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated called it unacceptable for a police force to investigate another police force, and called for independent police oversight.
“The consistent and increasing frequency of these violent incidents involving the police indicate these are not one-off events, these are systemic issues within the justice system,” the release said.
RCMP Chief Supt. Jones has advocated for civilian oversight for the RCMP. Whether or not the investigation results are different, she said “the trust would be there and transparency would be there if it was an external body that provided the investigation.”
The officer who hit the man with the door of his vehicle is still in Nunavut, but for his safety RCMP are not releasing his whereabouts. His weapons have been removed and he is doing administrative work.
Should any charges stem from the Ottawa police report, these would impact the Nunavut RCMP’s internal code of conduct investigation, Jones said. Repercussions faced by the officer could range from a pay cut to a loss of rank or even dismissal.
“I want Nunavummiut to know that they are safe in our communities,” Jones said. ” He will be accountable for his actions.”
Justice minister says video isn’t racist
Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said she was “outraged” by Monday’s arrest in Kinngait, and said “Nunavummiut deserve a police force that is respectful to all citizens no matter their offence, ethnicity, gender, or religion.”
While she called the arrest violent and unacceptable, Ehaloak said she did not see racism in this case.
“I don’t think there was any racism in the video. None at all,” she said, adding that she hopes residents won’t fear the police because of this one video.
Ehaloak is hoping to start a pilot project for police body cameras similar to one being tried in Nunavik.
Asked by CBC News if there is racism in Nunavut’s police force, Jones said that’s a call to be made by the people who may be experiencing racism.
“If there is racism in Canada then we’ll have racism in the RCMP. We absolutely don’t tolerate it,” she said. “We do try very hard to ensure that when we have members that are selected to come up to Nunavut to serve the Inuit communities that there are no prejudices.”
Jones says Nunavut RCMP are open to using cameras on vehicles or uniforms, but need a system to store and process video, and the financing to do it. National RCMP are reviewing this possibility now, she said.
“It would help our members be able to explain the situation that they’re in. It’s for us and for everyone’s safety. For the real picture,” Jone said.
With files from Jackie McKay and Amy Tucker
Related stories from around the North:
Finland: Police response times up to an hour slower in Arctic Finland, Yle News
Russia: Police crackdown on Putin opponent’s offices in Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: Lack of village police leads to hiring cops with criminal records in Alaska: Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Public Media