Hundreds of Inuit could join class action suit against RCMP abuse, lawyer says
‘I believe, based on my interaction with the RCMP, that they treat me differently because I am Indigenous,’ plaintiff alleges
A lawyer representing plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the RCMP for excessive force expects hundreds of Inuit to join the claim now that it’s been certified.
In her Wednesday decision, federal court Justice Glennys McVeigh said she disagreed with the government’s argument that plaintiffs’ claims of police brutality were individual.
“The claims do not ask if an RCMP officer illegally assaulted a class member, but rather whether the operations of the RCMP create a system where illegal assaults happen,” McVeigh wrote.
“After this has been established, then it can be determined whether a particular class member was a victim of this system.”
The lawsuit alleges that Indigenous people are frequently arrested, detained and abused by RCMP officers in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon on the basis of their race.
It also alleges the federal government has been “systemically negligent” in its funding, oversight and operation of its RCMP detachments and its officers, who it alleges have routinely used excessive force on Indigenous Peoples in those three territories.
Steven Cooper, one of the lawyers representing plaintiffs, said it remains unclear just how many class action members there are, but adds that number is likely to grow in the coming months.
“People are very reluctant to come forward until a claim is certified or the claim is settled and there is something for which to apply,” Cooper said.
“We’ve all seen the video-recorded events in places like Iqaluit and Kinngnait,” he said. “The best I can tell you is that I have little doubt that this is the tip of the iceberg.
“Myself and my colleagues have been hearing about these types of events for decades and I expect that we will be dealing in the hundreds [of class members] in Nunavut alone.”
The original plaintiff, Joe David Nasogaluak, is Inuvialuit from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. He alleges that when he was 15 years old, the RCMP assaulted him during an arrest and held him in police custody.
Nasogaluak is seeking $600,000 in damages.
One class member, Willie Aglukkaq, is a Dene man who grew up in an adoptive family in Gjoa Haven. In a 2019 affidavit filed as evidence in the lawsuit, Aglukkaq recounted a series of violent encounters with Nunavut RCMP officers.
“I have been assaulted by RCMP officers almost too many times to count,” Aglukkaq wrote, saying the first time was when he was just 11.
Aglukkaq recalled one incident in 1990 when he was attending a hockey game in Gjoa Haven and an RCMP officer arrested him and a friend.
“I wasn’t doing anything wrong and he didn’t tell me why I was being arrested,” Aglukkaq alleged. “He handcuffed me so tightly that my wrists were badly bruised.”
Aglukkaq alleged that he was held in the RCMP detachment overnight, where officers beat him repeatedly and strangled him until he almost passed out.
“It was a terrifying and traumatic experience for me,” he wrote. “I believe, based on my interaction with the RCMP, that they treat me differently because I am Indigenous.”
Justice McVeigh defined members of the class action as comprising all Indigenous people who were born before Dec. 18, 2016, and who allege incidents of assault while in RCMP custody or detention in the territories.
Nasogaluak was a minor when he first launched the lawsuit in 2018, so his mother acted as his litigation guardian. Now that he’s a legal adult, Nasogaluak must get the court’s permission to put his own name on the claim.