IQALUIT, Nunavut — A man who was arrested by being knocked over by a police vehicle was later beaten by another prisoner in lockup because there was no room to house all inmates separately, say Nunavut RCMP.
The arrest drew widespread criticism when video released on social media showed the man, apparently intoxicated, was knocked down by an officer with the door of a slowly moving police pickup truck.
“When you have a racial divide between your police officers and the communities they serve, and a history of colonization, it’s not surprising that you see these kinds of issues arise,” said Benson Cowan, head of Nunavut’s legal aid society.
In a news release, Nunavut RCMP describe a busy Monday afternoon in Kinngait, formerly Cape Dorset, on the southern tip of Baffin Island.
Just before the arrest, the three on-duty officers were joined by two officers called out to help deal with an ongoing weapons complaint. When the man was brought back to the detachment’s four cells, he joined seven others, “all of whom were intoxicated,” the release says.
One cell held four men, another held an “extremely agitated” man while the other two held women who had been separated because they were fighting. One of the women was released to make room for the new prisoner.
However, he was joined later that night by a fresh arrestee as RCMP members continued to respond to a backlog of calls created by the weapons incident. A fight broke out.
Police said the guard immediately contacted officers, who returned to the lockup as soon as possible.
“Unfortunately the male in the video was injured as a result of the assault and later flown to Iqaluit for further medical treatment,” police said.
The second prisoner has been charged with aggravated assault. The man knocked over by the police vehicle was never charged with anything.
The arresting officer has been removed from the community and the arrest is under investigation.
“RCMP continue to work diligently to serve the community of Kinngait in managing the high volume of calls for service while balancing resources and demands placed on the members,” said Chief Supt. Amanda Jones, who commands Nunavut RCMP.
But Cowan said the initial apprehension points to wider issues.
“Anyone in Nunavut who has any dealings with the justice system knows that there are larger issues at stake,” he said. ”It is imperative that the governments of Nunavut, Canada, the RCMP and communities get together and have a serious conversation about the way policing services are delivered.”
Iqaluit lawyer Lori Idlout, who has a long background in social work, said police should already know what they have to do. Reports from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association are full of good ideas.
“The RCMP needs to stop ignoring the recommendations,” she said.
The force should bring back special constables, she said — local, trained people who work with RCMP in crime prevention.
“As difficult as it might be to be hopeful, I think we have to be,” she said.
Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said she was outraged by the arrest. A growing list of leaders want the force to put body cameras on its members.
RCMP in the North face at least two lawsuits over their treatment of Indigenous people. In January, the national organization of Inuit women released a report saying Indigenous northerners face “systemic racialized policing.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960
The Canadian Press