Nunavut RCMP to consider body cameras as tension between police, Inuit grows

Nunavut RCMP to consider body cameras as tension between police, Inuit grows

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut RCMP are considering whether to use body cameras as tension grows between police officers and the largely Inuit communities they serve.

A number of leaders from the Arctic have spoken in favour of the cameras.

“Our commanding officer, (Chief Supt.) Amanda Jones, is in discussions with the government of Nunavut regarding body-worn cameras,” Nunavut RCMP spokesman Cpl. Jamie Savikataaq said Wednesday in an email.

“The commanding officer supports the use of body-worn cameras.”

Earlier this week, video surfaced on social media showing an RCMP officer in Kinngait, formerly Cape Dorset, using the door of a slowly moving police vehicle to knock over an apparently intoxicated man.

The officer is being investigated and has been removed from the community on the southern tip of Baffin Island.

Some say such behaviour is just one example of policing by an out-of-touch force that doesn’t understand and looks down on the people it is supposed to serve.

“That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about … These are some of the things that go on when we’re not looking,” said David Qamaniq, a Nunavut member of the legislature, whose son Kunuk was shot and killed by RCMP officers in 2017.

Qamaniq is suing the force, one of at least two lawsuits the RCMP faces over its treatment of Inuit. A separate class-action lawsuit was filed in December 2018 alleging RCMP in the three northern territories regularly assault and abuse Indigenous people.

Qamaniq is one of several Arctic leaders who have called for body cameras. Others include Nunavut NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell and Nunavut Sen. Dennis Patterson.

“(Such incidents) are all too common in the North,” said Patterson, who noted RCMP have been involved in two deaths in Nunavut so far this year.

“I’m concerned about public trust — building that back with the RCMP.”

On Tuesday, Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said the Kinngait video left her outraged.

“I … am very concerned by the unnecessary force, the violence and the lack of respect,” she said in a release.

In January, the national organization of Inuit women released a report saying Indigenous northerners face “systemic racialized policing.” Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada said officers don’t spend enough time in communities or speak enough Inuktut — the majority language — to create trust.

Freelance journalist Thomas Rohner has listed 14 Inuit deaths since Nunavut’s creation in 1999 that have occurred in RCMP custody or after contact with police.

In 2015, the Nunavut legislature commissioned a report into police misconduct. The report was never released.

A letter that year from Nunavut’s legal-aid service suggested it had information on 30 cases of excessive use of force. The service’s chairwoman at the time said there had been 27 civil cases filed between 2014 and 2017.

Nunavut is a tough place to be a cop. It has nation-leading rates of violent crime and sexual abuse as well as serious problems with substance abuse.

Patterson praises Jones’s efforts to reach out to Nunavut communities and her efforts to recruit more Inuit RCMP officers.

But at last count in 2019, Nunavut RCMP had three Inuit officers out of 120. No detachments offer service in Inuktut.

It may be time for the body cameras, said Nunavut Justice Department spokeswoman Jessica Young.

“The Department of Justice is in support of investigating a body camera pilot program in Nunavut,” she said in an email.

“The department is currently waiting on an updated feasibility study from the RCMP intended to identify the technical, logistical and financial requirements.”

Police in Quebec’s Arctic region are using the cameras.

“It is about the safety of everyone involved,” said a statement from Bell, who promised to bring the matter before Iqaluit’s city council on Tuesday for a motion of support.

In Ottawa, Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said any form of police brutality is unacceptable.

“This is a moment when all of us in our country need to reflect on both what are doing and specific measures and steps we can take to fight racism,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2020

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter

The Canadian Press

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