In the face of mounting pressure for transparency and rising tensions in Kinngait, Nunavut, the territory’s top Mountie made the unusual decision to release details of an investigation into the February shooting death of a man in the community.
Attachie Ashoona was killed because he went after an officer in his home while wielding a knife and threatening to kill others in the house, Nunavut RCMP’s Chief Supt. Amanda Jones told CBC News.
The Ottawa Police Services conducted an investigation and issued a short press release earlier this week, clearing the officer of criminal wrongdoing in the incident. When serious incidents such as shooting deaths occur, the RCMP in Nunavut bring in either the Ottawa or the Calgary police to investigate.
“It is important that the relationship with our communities is maintained and that community members know that our members were acting in line with their duties and in scope of their training,” Jones said.
The RCMP have been facing growing pressure for more transparency and accountability from Nunavut and other Canadian leaders.
But investigations of police by another police force have been roundly criticized by experts for years. After investigating, the Ottawa or Calgary police usually issue a short press release with little information besides their finding.
Jones said people would be right to doubt such investigations because of the lack of transparency.
Jones’s account provides only the narrative from the Ottawa police investigation.
A coroner’s inquest is legally mandatory when police kill a Nunavut resident and provides numerous other narratives and witnesses, including locally. The Nunavut coroner’s office told CBC the inquest into Ashoona’s death has not yet been scheduled but it hopes to conduct the inquest in 2021.
‘Within 3 feet she discharges her firearm’
According to Jones, two officers responded to a domestic call on Feb. 26 and were told that a woman was screaming and being dragged.
A second emergency call said a man was also being beaten, Jones said.
When the officers arrived, Jones said Ashoona’s father stood outside the house bleeding and they heard Ashoona yelling from inside the house that he was getting a knife.
“The officers did not know if the female who had been reported as dragged was inside the residence,” the RCMP said in a press release issued Thursday.
The officers climbed the steps to the house and at the door saw Ashoona with a knife saying he was going to kill them and they should shoot him, Jones said.
The officers warned Ashoona to drop the knife and stop moving but Jones said he didn’t comply.
Jones said an officer stepped into the house to evade Ashoona, and became “stuck” in the home. That’s when Ashoona turned and went toward that officer “while making stabbing motions,” the news release said.
The officer warned him to stop, said Jones.
“He doesn’t stop, and within three feet, she discharges her firearm,” Jones said. “Nobody wants to do that. No one wants to take a life. And it’s devastating for [the officer], it’s devastating for the family, and obviously for Ashoona.”
When asked why officers did not shoot Ashoona to stop him rather than to kill him, Jones said that’s not how police officers are trained.
“Our training is that we shoot to stop somebody, and you shoot at the centre of mass, because if you shoot an arm or a leg, you could miss,” she said.
RCMP increase officer staffing in Kinngait
Numerous incidents partially depicting interactions between RCMP and Kinngait residents have been posted online in recent months. One that went viral and garnered national attention in June involved a young Inuk man taken down by an RCMP truck.
Jones said investigations into that incident — an internal code of conduct investigation, one by the Ottawa Police Service and one by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP — are all still underway and no update is available.
Jones assured Kinngait residents that their safety remains the RCMP’s top concern.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: No charges in police-related death in Arctic Canada, Ottawa police say, CBC News
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