Nunavut government planning new oversight body for police-involved incidents

Justice minister says Kinngait video was “one isolated incident”

A video posted earlier this week showing a police officer in Kinngait, pictured here, knocking down a man with the door of a police vehicle has prompted widespread outrage. Jeannie Ehaloak, Nunavut’s minister of justice, says the video is “one isolated incident” and that “the RCMP does a lot of good work in our communities.” (File photo)

By Emma Tranter

A new model for civilian oversight of the RCMP in Nunavut could be announced at the legislative assembly’s fall sitting, says the territory’s justice minister.

The Nunavut RCMP currently 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.

“We’ve been working to try and find an independent agency to do the review for us. And we’re at the point where I think we’ll be able to make an announcement soon. Probably in the fall sitting. I’m hoping that I’ll have some information for Nunavummiut,” Jeannie Ehaloak, Nunavut’s minister of justice, told Nunatsiaq News.

In the fall 2018 sitting, Ehaloak told the legislative assembly that her department was open to looking at a civilian oversight body—rather than one led by police—to review complaints of excessive force by police in the territory.

Since Jan. 1, there have been six incidents in the territory where the Ottawa Police Service has been called in to investigate. Three of those incidents were police-involved shootings, two of them fatal.

The sixth investigation was launched after a video was posted on Tuesday, June 2, of a man in Kinngait being hit and knocked down by an officer using the door of an RCMP vehicle. After the video surfaced, the officer was removed from the community and is now under investigation.

The victim in the video was intoxicated and was arrested under the Nunavut Liquor Act, the RCMP said. He does not face any criminal charges.

The man in the video also told Nunatsiaq News in an interview on Wednesday, June 3, that he wants to see the officer who hit him criminally charged.

When asked if the officer involved should be criminally charged, Ehaloak said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Justice minister says Kinngait video was “one isolated incident”

Ehaloak said she didn’t think events like the one in the video are common in Nunavut.

“I don’t think it’s common.… The RCMP does a lot of good work in our communities.… This is one isolated incident that just happened the way it happened,” Ehaloak said.

“With the amount of incidents that happened this year, it’s very unfortunate and I hope that this stops,” she added.

According to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., 15 people have been killed by police in Nunavut since the territory’s creation in 1999. Two have been shot and killed by police this year alone in the territory.

“The consistent and increasing frequency of these violent incidents involving the police indicate these are not one-off events, these are systemic issues within the justice system. It is clear there is a problem at hand and it is time to acknowledge it so change can occur,” NTI said in a statement released on Thursday, June 4.

NTI also called for a trauma-informed approach to policing and an independent oversight model for the RCMP.

“[NTI] hears from fellow Inuit that Inuit are scared of the RCMP and that police use excessive force in many interactions. NTI calls on the Government of Nunavut (GN) and the RCMP to shift their practice from violent behaviour to nurture community wellness with a trauma-informed approach,” NTI stated.

“The institutional framework for the delivery of justice programs is at best only a partial solution to justice problems and the real determinants of criminal and other forms of destructive behaviour … [are] the lack of social, economic and cultural well-being among Nunavut Inuit.”

Ehaloak said if anyone has a conflict with the RCMP, they can contract the Civil Complaints Commission or reach out to her office or the office of her deputy minister, Stephen Mansell.

“I know this is getting a lot of press lately, especially with what’s happening in the United States and southern Canada. I want to ensure Nunavummiut that we won’t tolerate this type of conduct in our communities,” Ehaloak said.

Seven people held in cell block designed for four

After being hit by the RCMP truck door, the victim was held in custody that night at the Kinngait detachment where he was allegedly beaten so severely by another inmate that he was flown to Iqaluit to be admitted to hospital.

That information was not included in the original news release about the incident issued by the RCMP on Wednesday, June 3.

Amanda Jones, chief superintendent of the Nunavut RCMP, told Nunatsiaq News that’s because she was unaware the man had been medevaced to Iqaluit when the release was put out.

“I wasn’t aware of the medevac until later on in the day,” she said.

The Kinngait RCMP detachment has four cells. The night the victim was arrested, there were seven people, all intoxicated according to the RCMP, being held in custody at the detachment, the RCMP said in a news release. There were four men in one cell, two women each in separate cells who had been fighting, and one “extremely agitated male” in the fourth cell. The RCMP released one of the women, and the man in the video was placed in a cell alone.

After responding to another call, RCMP brought a man into custody and placed him in the same cell.

“It is a decision they have to make. Not one that they are comfortable with, not one that I am comfortable with, but obviously you have to put your prisoners somewhere, and nobody was releasable,” Jones said.

Male and female inmates are not placed in the same cell, Jones said.

When asked why no one intervened when the inmate began beating the man hit by the RCMP truck, Jones said the RCMP has a policy that guards at detachments cannot open cell doors.

In Nunavut, commissionaires, not RCMP officers, guard cells at a detachment.

“They do not have training … to break up fights like that. We don’t keep members in our cells. That’s the practice, that if something does go on, the guard will notify our members and the members will return quickly and stop the fight,” Jones said.

That night, five of the Kinngait detachment’s seven officers were on duty. Usually three officers are on at one time. Jones said she will also be adding an eighth officer to the Kinngait detachment.

The same night the RCMP hit the man on the video, they received 28 calls, including a call involving a firearm. Between 10:46 p.m. and 12:44 a.m., they received 11 calls, all involving alcohol, Jones said.

“If there hadn’t been other files going on, the members would have been in the detachment doing paperwork and would have been quicker in their response,” Jones said.

Jones said she plans to visit all of Nunavut’s detachments and meet with hamlets starting as early as next week.

The inmate has been charged with aggravated assault and was released on bail at a telephone hearing before justice of the peace Joseph Murdoch-Flowers on Wednesday, June 3.

Jones said she has ordered an “administrative review of the incident in [the] cells alongside the investigations into the actions of the officer depicted in the video.”

Jones said she could not name the officer who hit the man in the video, but would name him if he was charged.

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