Prosecutors have dropped charges against Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, whose violent arrest was captured by a police dashcam and increased pressure on the RCMP to deal with systemic racism within the force.
Mr. Adam and his wife were confronted by an RCMP officer outside a casino in Fort McMurray, Alta., in March over expired licence plates. Mr. Adam told The Globe and Mail earlier this month that police beat him up and manhandled his wife. He also released a photo showing his bloodied face after the arrest.
Later, a 12-minute video of the incident showed how the situation quickly escalated when a second officer arrived, tackling Mr. Adam to the ground and punching him in the head.
The Chief was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. Crown prosecutors withdrew those charges on Wednesday during a court hearing in Fort McMurray.
“I think that what happened to me is an eye-opener for everyone across this country,” Mr. Adam said in an interview after the court hearing. “To assault a chief and think that it would not get international attention is somewhat frightening.”
Politicians and First Nations leaders widely condemned the arrest, calling on the RCMP to change how it treats Indigenous people.
The arrest of Mr. Adam came to light around the time of several high-profile police shootings. Six Indigenous people have been killed by police in Canada since April, including Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old originally from a B.C. First Nation, who was shot during a “wellness check” in New Brunswick in early June. Policing has been in the spotlight in mass protests around the world calling for reforms after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of officers in Minneapolis.
Mr. Adam’s lawyer also revealed that one of the officers involved in the Fort McMurray confrontation is scheduled to stand trial later this year on assault and mischief charges stemming from an unrelated incident in August, 2019, while he was off duty.
The Chief said he’s satisfied with the charges being dropped and that he believes justice has been served. But he said the national police force has serious issues, and the aggression of one officer in particular was “far beyond policing.”
“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, is this policing?’” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I sat up all night in the jail cell and I never went to sleep. Let me put it to you that way.”
Mr. Adam said the incident shows the need for significant changes to how Indigenous communities are policed, including replacing the RCMP with Indigenous-led forces and improving training.
Alberta Justice spokesperson Carla Jones issued a statement that said prosecutors dropped the charges after reviewing the evidence, but did not elaborate.
The province’s police watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, is investigating.
Mr. Adam’s lawyer, Brian Beresh, said the decision confirms the charges were never justified.
“It also validates Chief Adam’s view that the police conduct ... was excessive, unreasonable and unwarranted,” Mr. Beresh told a news conference in Fort McMurray. “It is clear that his race played a role in the police decision to charge.”
Before the dashcam video was released, the RCMP said the force had reviewed the footage and determined the officers’ actions were reasonable. The RCMP issued a statement at the time that said Mr. Adam was resisting and that force was “required.”
On Wednesday, RCMP spokesman Fraser Logan sent a statement acknowledging that Crown prosecutors had dropped the charges, but otherwise declined to comment on the case.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he is grateful Mr. Adam’s nightmare is over.
“He should not have been charged in the first place,” he said. He urged investigators to complete their work “as expeditiously as possible, because the excessive use of force is not acceptable from any police force across Canada.”
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has faced calls to resign after she struggled to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism or explain how the force intends to root it out. In the days after Mr. Adam went public about the arrest, Commissioner Lucki told The Globe “we don’t have systemic racism” in the force.
The Prime Minister publicly contradicted the Commissioner, who released a statement two days later acknowledging she was wrong.
One of the officers involved in the confrontation, Constable Simon Seguin, was charged with assault, mischief and unlawfully being in a dwelling in connection with an incident on Aug. 5. A trial is scheduled for September.
Mr. Logan, the RCMP spokesman, confirmed that Constable Seguin remains on duty.
“Constable Seguin attended a residence while he was off-duty and attempted to gain access inside,” Mr. Logan wrote in an e-mail. “An altercation ensued with two occupants inside before he left the residence.”
The allegations have not been proved in court.
Mr. Beresh said those charges should have factored into the RCMP’s assessment of how Mr. Adam was treated.
“Knowing the officer involved, who decided that nothing should be done about [Mr. Adam’s arrest], and who decided to publicly announce that the force used was reasonable?” Mr. Beresh said.
“It’s quite astounding.”
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