House call turns into nightmare for deaf Iqaluit man
Complaint alleges that RCMP officers used excessive force
A deaf man has launched a formal complaint against two Iqaluit RCMP constables for using “excessive force” during what should have been a routine house call.
Laban Awa, 32, was upstairs in his home at White Row with his one-year-old son when RCMP officers Duane Flynn and Viral Borkhataria came into his home and arrested him on the morning of May 7.
In a move that highlights the lack of social services available in Iqaluit, the incident began when police responded to a telephone call made by Awa’s common-law wife.
Tanya Enook had made the call from a neighbour’s house because she was concerned that Awa may have been depressed and suicidal, says a statement of complaint produced by a legal aid lawyer at Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik.
When police arrived, Enook says, she spoke to them briefly downstairs and told them about Awa’s disability.
Awa is deaf and communicates mainly through hand-written notes, basic sign language and lip-reading. He is intelligent and articulate in English and Inuktitut.
The police, however, disregarded the information. Enook soon heard her common-law shouting, “My son! My son!”
Upstairs, the complaint reads, Awa was being held face-first against the wall with his infant son in his amauti.
The officers were shouting questions at him. At one point, Cst. Borkhataria said to Enook, “Oh, he can hear us.”
Enook pulled the baby from the amauti right before Borkhataria pepper sprayed Awa, whom Enook said had not made any attempts to strike either officer.
Enook ran downstairs with the baby and her five-year-old son to avoid the stinging cloud.
Awa began to follow the officers outside but was again restrained, lain face-down in the open doorway, “punched three to four times in the lower back,” the statement reads, and pepper-sprayed a second time before being arrested.
By this time several other officers had arrived, and were told that Awa was resisting arrest, but not told that he was deaf and had no idea why he was being arrested. Instead, Awa was thrown face down in the snow, shirtless.
Awa was then taken to an isolation cell at RCMP barracks where he was held for over 11 hours with no opportunity to call a lawyer — though this opportunity would have been difficult for Awa to pursue — and no explanation given as to why he was arrested. Ten hours after being arrested, he was taken to hospital to be treated for lacerations to his wrists, bruises and a strained neck and back.
It was not until Awa consulted with a legal aid lawyer after his release that he learned he was arrested under the Mental Health Act for allegedly being depressed and possibly suicidal.
At a May 30 meeting with Ed North of the Iqaluit RCMP, North stated in writing that RCMP did not dispute the facts.
Awa was informed that the delay in going to the hospital was because no doctors were available. He was also told that the officers did not realize he was completely deaf.
In an email later sent to Enook, North said that the officers had admitted to using force.
The complaint was sent to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP in July and forwarded to the Commissioner of the RCMP on July 21.
The Commissioner has 45 days to acknowledge the complaint, and is required to offer status reports every month thereafter.