Nunavut man “outraged” by police misconduct dismissal
Legal experts say Nunavut needs civilian oversight of RCMP
Bernard Naulalik of Iqaluit, whose allegation of police brutality against Iqaluit RCMP was dismissed in November following an external investigation by the Ottawa Police Service, says he is “outraged” by the findings of that investigation.
“I was disappointed. I thought the officers should’ve been charged,” Naulalik told Nunatsiaq News Dec. 2.
After arresting Naulalik, now 25, on three minor charges in Iqaluit on July 18, 2014, police placed Naulalik in cell number three of the local detachment.
Police video footage from the cell that night — published by Nunatsiaq News in March — shows two RCMP members tag-teaming Naulalik and roughing the prisoner up.
As a result, Naulalik said Dec. 2 that he sustained a black eye and facial bruising as well as a dislocated shoulder and bruised torso as one of the officers pinned him down.
The RCMP didn’t provide him with any medical treatment, Naulalik said, for the five days they kept him in custody.
The Nunavut RCMP “V” Division announced in March that Ottawa police would investigate the incident to determine whether the two officers acted with excessive force.
But that was only after Naulalik’s lawyer, Tamara Fairchild, alleged in court documents that police used “cruel and unusual punishment” against her client, and that they laid a false assault charge against Naulalik to cover that punishment up.
The assault charge, and the three charges laid by RCMP against Naulalik upon his arrest, have since been stayed by Nunavut’s Crown prosecution office, which means they have effectively been dropped.
In a short November news release, Nunavut RCMP said the OPS external investigation “concluded that the members involved were acting within the scope of their duties and did not exceed the use of force necessary to control an aggressive and assaultive prisoner.”
But Naulalik says the investigation has left him feeling helpless.
“They beat me up pretty good, and I can’t do anything about it. If I make another complaint, it’ll probably be rejected too,” Naulalik said, adding he is considering filing a civil lawsuit against the Nunavut RCMP.
Now that the investigation is concluded, experts in law and police oversight are questioning how thorough, transparent and independent it really was.
Ian Scott, the former director of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit and author of a textbook on police oversight in Canada, told Nunatsiaq News Nov. 25 that the investigation should have been conducted by a civilian oversight body.
The Ontario SIU is a civilian-led agency with a mandate to investigate and lay criminal charges, if appropriate, against police officers accused of committing serious crimes while on duty.
“It deeply concerns me that another police service is doing that review. That would, in my view, erode any public confidence in their ultimate findings,” said Scott, who could not comment specifically on the Naulalik case.
That’s because members of the public might wonder if investigators were wearing “blue-tinted glasses,” Scott said.
“It may be that police are more forgiving of other police officers than they ought to be.”
As the SIU’s director, Scott oversaw more than 500 police officer investigations and laid more than 50 criminal charges. He says a civilian oversight body, such as Ontario’s SIU, offers the kind of transparency members of the public now expect.
“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 said.
The Nunavut RCMP could have bolstered the transparency of the OPS investigation by issuing a detailed news release, he added.
Instead, their release ran three short paragraphs and provided no details of what actually transpired. We do know that Ottawa police investigators interviewed Naulalik and the two officers involved. The Nunavut RCMP confirmed as much in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
“The real problem is when charges aren’t laid against the officers because then the general response is, ‘they’re just protecting themselves,’” said Scott, a public prosecutor with three decades of experience.
Across the country, jurisdictions are moving towards civilian oversight agencies to investigate allegations of police misconduct, Scott said.
Ontario, Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Quebec all either have such an agency set up or are about to have one set up, he added.
But sadly, he added, in almost all of those jurisdictions, civilian police oversight was only established after some tragedy inspired a significant public outcry.
Iqaluit lawyer Alison Crowe agreed with Scott, that Nunavut could benefit from an external body with investigative powers.
“Civilian oversight of the police is the short definition of democracy,” Crowe said in a recent interview.
The private defence lawyer is quick to point out that Nunavut police often carry out their duties admirably, in a challenging environment.
“We certainly see many examples of police acting with great forbearance, patience and even kindness,” Crowe said.
But she adds that with protections afforded under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enacted in 1982, and the advent of police video footage, questionable behaviour doesn’t get so easily swept under the rug anymore.
Regardless of what kind of oversight mechanisms are in place, they should have a civilian element, said Laura Berger, acting program director for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
“The key idea is that the police are answerable to civilians and there needs to be civilians involved in overseeing what police do,” Berger said.
Meanwhile, Naulalik said he’ll consider his options moving forward and that he continues to deal with the remnants of his experience.
“My shoulder ever since hasn’t been right,” he said, rolling his shoulder awkwardly.