A lawyer is trying to get in touch with the Kinngait man who, earlier this month, was captured on video getting hit with the door of a moving RCMP pickup truck.
Steven Cooper, a lawyer with the firm Cooper Regel, wants the Kinngait man to get involved with his proposed class action lawsuit.
Cooper believes the Kinngait incident shines a light on long-simmering tensions between police and Indigenous people in Canada’s North.
“This is not about individuals, it’s not about individual people affected, it’s not about individual police officers,” said Cooper. “It’s about a system.”
Cooper Regel and Koskie Minsky LLP first proposed the $600-million class action lawsuit, alleging discrimination by the RCMP, in 2018. The statement of claim says Canada has failed to adequately oversee its RCMP officers and protect Indigenous people from police brutality in Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. The federal police force has jurisdiction throughout the three territories.
As tensions rise in the United States over the killing of Black people by police, RCMP in Canada’s North have also found themselves under a microscope for their relationship to Indigenous communities.
On Wednesday, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said that police deal with unconscious bias, just like people in every other segment of society. “There are times when our members don’t act in accordance with our core values, which includes racism,” she said. “It’s those times that we have to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
Numbers growing, lawyer says
Cooper says “currently we have identified roughly 50 people” who likely qualify as members of the class.
“We are advancing with the three who we feel are most representative,” Cooper said in an email. Next month those three will be cross-examined by the attorney general’s office, to see if they share enough in common to be part of a class action.
According to court documents provided to CBC News by Cooper’s firm, six people signed affidavits in October accusing the police of racist misconduct. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
In one affidavit, former deputy mayor of Gjoa Haven, Willie Aglukkaq, said his face was slammed against a cinderblock wall inside a cell.
The proposed lawsuit’s lead plaintiff is Joe David Nasogaluak. His mother Diane’s affidavit says her son was beaten by officers, roughly arrested, and subjected to racial slurs. He was 15 years old.
For the suit to go forward, the firm still needs to prove there is a group of people —a certifiable “class” — that share the same types of experiences with the RCMP.
Cooper is calling on the attorney general’s office to speed up the process, so that both parties can get the next step of arguing over whether Canada has done anything wrong.
“I think [the incident in Kinngait] gives a greater imperative for Canada to sit down and start talking with us,” said Cooper. “This is about recognizing the problems of the past and ensuring that they … are less likely to occur in the future.”
Canada’s Northern RCMP detachments said they were not able to comment on the proposed suit before deadline. The president of the RCMP officers’ union, Brian Sauvé, declined a request for comment.
But in a June 8 statement, the union noted that policing is one of the most regulated professions in the country.
“We ask for respect and fairness for all Canadians during this sensitive time, including our members who put their lives on the front-line to protect those they serve and make our communities safer and stronger,” the statement says.
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
Sweden: Film exploring racism against Sami wins big at Swedish film awards, Radio Sweden
United States: Lack of village police leads to hiring cops with criminal records in Alaska: Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Public Media