Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut October 19, 2016 - 8:30 am

Nunavut MLA Okalik wants independent, civilian oversight of the RCMP

“The Ottawa Police Service can no longer be trusted to conduct independent investigations”

Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik said Oct. 17 that the Nunavut RCMP need civilian oversight. (FILE PHOTO)
Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik said Oct. 17 that the Nunavut RCMP need civilian oversight. (FILE PHOTO)

In the wake of the recent racism scandal at the Ottawa Police Service, the Government of Nunavut must now create a civilian body to oversee investigations into the conduct of the RCMP in Nunavut, Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik said Oct. 18 in the legislative assembly.

Right now, the Nunavut RCMP, under the terms of a policing contract with the GN, uses the OPS to do third-party external investigations into police shootings of civilians and allegations of police brutality in Nunavut.

But Okalik, a lawyer and former Nunavut justice minister, says comments that OPS Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar posted Sept. 24 on The Ottawa Citizen website raise questions about whether the OPS is capable of doing credible investigations in cases that involve Inuit.

“The Ottawa Police Service can no longer be trusted to conduct independent investigations,” Okalik said in one of a series of questions aimed at Justice Minister Keith Peterson.

Chris Hrnchiar, an OPS sergeant, used his Facebook account to post comments on The Ottawa Citizen website under a story reporting on the death of revered Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, whose body was found Sept. 19 in the Rideau River.

Hrnchiar’s comments included remarks like this: “she got drunk and fell in the river and drowned who knows….. typically many Aboriginals have short lifespans.”

And he also said “much of the Aboriginal population” is satisfied with being drug and alcohol abusers and do not have the “will to change.”

OPS Chief Charles Bordeleau, in media stories, at first downplayed Hrnchiar’s comments, stopping short of calling them racist.

But as public outrage grew, especially among the Inuit community, Bordeleau admitted in an interview with APTN late last week that Hrnchiar’s comments are indeed racist.

Hrnchiar now faces two charges of disreputable conduct under the Ontario Police Services Act and is set to make a first appearance at a hearing in Ottawa Nov. 1.

Okalik said all this means the attitudes of OPS members “are being called into question” and that Nunavut should look at a form of civilian oversight for the RCMP.

That’s now the norm in most jurisdictions in Canada, Okalik told MLAs.

Peterson said he has asked Nunavut justice department officials to look at police oversight practices in other jurisdictions that could be adopted in Nunavut.

But he cautioned Okalik that the GN won’t act until they have first studied the issue carefully.

“I want to do thorough research, due diligence and then make a decision,” Peterson said.

Late last year, Ian D. Scott, the former director of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit and author of a textbook on police oversight in Canada, told Nunatsiaq News that a civilian oversight body should have done an investigation into brutality allegations that Bernard Naulalik of Iqaluit made against two Nunavut RCMP members.

Those allegations were dismissed following an external investigation by the OPS.

“Ottawa police might have conducted the most thorough investigation in the world, but we don’t know if it was thorough. And that goes to the issue of transparency,” Scott told Nunatsiaq News reporter Thomas Rohner this past November.

The fall sitting of the Nunavut legislative assembly got underway Oct. 18 and is expected to continue until early November.

On Oct. 19, Peterson, who is also finance minister, is expected to table a bill that will ask MLAs to approve the Government of Nunavut’s 2017-18 capital budget.

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