Head of Nunavut RCMP responds to recent shootings involving police

Territory saw three police-involved incidents in four months, including two deaths

The Ottawa Police Service has been called in to investigate five incidents in Nunavut this year. Three of those incidents were police-involved shootings, two of which were fatal. (File photo)

By Emma Tranter

The commanding officer of the Nunavut RCMP says police in the territory need to take a more “holistic approach” when responding to potentially violent incidents.

Amanda Jones, chief superintendent of the RCMP’s V Division, said the RCMP, the Government of Nunavut and other partners need to work together to reduce the frequency of incidents involving police in the territory.

Nunatsiaq News reached out to Jones for comment after the RCMP reported three shooting incidents that involved the RCMP since February, two of which were fatal.

“Obviously, it is concerning. We’re talking about three instances where police officers had used their firearms…. Two were fatal. It is disturbing. It’s very hard on our members, it’s very hard on our communities,” said Jones, who started in the position last year.

Earlier this month, the Ottawa Police Service was called in to investigate when a 31-year-old Clyde River man died after “an officer became involved in a use of force situation and discharged their firearm,” a news release said.

The Nunavut RCMP has agreements with the Ottawa and Calgary police services to conduct third-party investigations of incidents involving the police that lead to serious injury or death. External police investigators may also lay charges.

Since Jan. 1, there have been five incidents in Nunavut where the Ottawa Police Service was called in to investigate, Jones said.

Three of those incidents were police-involved shootings: first in Kinngait in February, then in Apex in April and most recently in Clyde River.

As all three incidents are under investigation by the OPS, the RCMP will not provide any more details at this time, Jones said.

One of the other incidents investigated by the OPS this year was a situation in Iqaluit where an individual was arrested under the Mental Health Act, went into medical distress on the way to the hospital and later died. The fifth is an incident in Pond Inlet where a child tobogganing down a hill was hit by a police vehicle and died from their injuries.

More police-involved incidents in four months than last two years

Three shootings involving the police in a period of four months in Nunavut is more than the territory saw in the last two years combined.

In 2018, there were four incidents that required external investigations or reviews, one being a police-involved shooting that left someone injured. In 2019, there were two that required investigations or reviews, none of which were police-involved shootings, according to the RCMP.

Amanda Jones, pictured here, is the chief superintendent of the Nunavut RCMP. (File photo)

At a recent coroner’s inquest into the death of a Resolute Bay man, a jury recommended that Nunavut RCMP have access to a psychologist or psychiatrist familiar with their negotiation model to assist them when responding to critical incidents.

The same jury also recommended that the RCMP work with Inuit organizations “to form an Inuit advisory committee that can provide guidance on needs specific to Nunavut to achieve the shared goal of preservation of life in coordinating efforts of all aspects of critical incident team response.”

While Nunavut’s RCMP have seen a drop in their case load since the pandemic began, Jones said there may be a spike in the “intensity” of calls they receive.

In Iqaluit specifically, the RCMP has seen cases of people claiming to have COVID-19 and spitting on officers, Jones said.

Jones also acknowledged that all of Nunavut’s 25 communities have different needs. But because of the pandemic, she said she is unable to do the level of community outreach she would like following these recent incidents.

“It would be nice to sit with the mayor and council and discuss.… What is the best approach if we have an incident? How does the community want that to be approached and who do we involve? Each community is different and that’s not going to be successful for all.… But there are some cases that we can work with the community and prevent some of the deaths that we’re seeing, or the shootings,” she said.

Officers trained to respond, but community partnerships needed

RCMP officers have to complete mandatory training in crisis intervention and de-escalation, Jones said. About 95 per cent of V Division’s officers are up to date on that training, she said.

Officers must also re-certify every year in something called the Incident Management/Intervention Model, which is a form of risk assessment used every time the RCMP respond to a call.

“When you get to a scene, you have to do a risk assessment. You’re constantly looking at your environment and how the individual is presenting,” Jones said.

Every three years, officers must also complete something called block training, which focuses on defensive tactics and scenario-based de-escalation training, Jones said.

Right now, V Division has 12 Inuit employees, including three regular members, one special constable and eight public service employees.

Among those Inuit members, two are trained as crisis negotiators. The V Division has a total of seven crisis negotiators, Jones said.

When asked what the RCMP will do to prevent similar situations in the future, Jones restated that she wants to work with the GN and communities to improve the RCMP’s response to violent incidents.

“I think it needs to be a more holistic approach where we have more partners involved to get this individual out of the residence,” Jones said.

“We need to get those partners that are involved in mental health to assist us in trying to get the person to a place where they can come out of the house safely and take care of the issues that they’re going through, as opposed to the police having to take that on alone… .Right now we’re just looking at what those partnerships are.”

Nunavut’s Department of Justice was unable to provide an interview with Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak by the Nunatsiaq News deadline. A spokesperson for the department referenced the renewed Shared Directional Statement for Policing Services in Nunavut signed by the GN and the RCMP in May 2019.

The department said it is committed to looking into “various options of civilian oversight for serious incidents involving the RCMP V Division…. A change from our current model of police oversight is supported by the RCMP V division and conforms to the national trend in this area.”

“We are still in the process of this review,” the spokesperson said. “In addition to this work, RCMP members throughout the territory have focused heavily on community-based policing initiatives that have assisted them in building stronger community ties. Our department is highly supportive of this work.”

When asked if the three police-involved shootings were preventable, Jones said she could not comment due to the ongoing investigations.

“I will say that we have amazing employees working in the communities doing incredible work for the communities…. The members are working for the communities and they are devoted and working hard to keep them safe,” Jones said.

Jones added that all external police investigators complied with COVID-19 measures, including wearing personal protective equipment and self-isolating when not working.

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