Nunavut is planning its own civilian police review agency over concerns that Inuit are too often treated badly by RCMP.
“I will commit to taking action on a civilian-led investigation for serious incidents involving the RCMP,” Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said Friday.
“My department is already working on it.”
Video surfaced on social media this week that showed an apparently intoxicated Inuit man being knocked over by the door of a slowly moving police vehicle before being arrested. He was taken to the detachment lockup in Kinngait, formerly Cape Dorset, where he was beaten by a fellow prisoner badly enough to be flown to hospital in Iqaluit.
The man was not charged with anything.
“I was outraged. I was angry. I was hurt,” Ehaloak told The Canadian Press.
Those feelings were widely shared across the territory and reopened a long-running discussion about the relationship between Inuit and the RCMP.
A series of reports and lawsuits have suggested the force is losing whatever trust the Inuit had in it. Northern media report at least six current investigations into RCMP behaviour and several Arctic politicians have called for body cameras on RCMP officers.
Ehaloak acknowledges interactions between Inuit and police can be rocky.
“In some communities the relationship is great; in some communities it’s not.”
There’s a lot of history feeding the unease: from the slaughter of sled dogs in the 1960s to the RCMP’s role in moving Inuit off the land into communities. For some, Ehaloak said, distrust is deep.
“There’s a long history of mistrust. Incidents like the one at Kinngait show that systemic racism in our territory is real.”
That’s why, she said, the territory wants independent, third-party reviews of potential police abuse. Nunavut officers are currently investigated by Ottawa RCMP, she said.
“More needs to be done to ensure that wrongdoing is documented and investigated fairly.
“We need to improve confidence and trust. We need to destroy any unconscious bias and systemic racism that exists.”
She said the territory is likely to contract with an already existing body in the south for the reviews.
Ehaloak said the force wants the relationship improved as well. She notes the Nunavut government and V-Division — the RCMP section that polices the territory — have jointly signed an agreement to that effect.
She praises the efforts of current commander Chief Supt. Amanda Jones to visit every community and meet with every council in the territory. Every detachment now has Inuktut-speaking front-line staff who can help people in their own language, Ehaloak said.
But she said Mounties have to work harder to integrate themselves into the remote, tightly-knit communities into which they are posted — even if they’re only there for a couple of years.
“Even though you’re only here for two or three years, you can still become a part of the community.”
There are things the force could do right away to improve communication, she said, such as revitalizing the special constable program, which trained local people to work alongside RCMP officers.
And Ehaloak, who spoke after spending most of the day out on the sea ice off Cambridge Bay with her family, said cultural training for RCMP officers posted to Nunavut should be improved.
Whatever it takes to prevent another video like the one that surfaced out of Kinngait, she said.
“I hope this stops.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020
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Bob Weber, The Canadian Press