The father of an Inuk man shot dead by an RCMP officer in Nunavut is challenging key aspects of the Mounties' version of events.
Goo Kingnuatsiaq says he was the lone civilian witness to the shooting of his 39-year-old son, Attachie Ashoona, at their family home in Kinngait on Feb. 26.
The RCMP did not publicly reveal the shooting at the time, saying in a February news release only that police in the community were dealing with an “incident.” The Ottawa Police Service, which investigated the shooting, issued a statement in late August that said the officer who shot him did not commit criminal misconduct.
After the Ottawa force cleared the officer in August, the Mounties said Mr. Ashoona deliberately brought on the shooting. In a news release, they said their officers arrived at the home in response to reports of a man dragging a woman by the hair and fighting with his father. It said they heard him call out that he was getting a knife. Two officers then entered the home, fearing the woman was inside and in danger. Mr. Ashoona cornered their officer, a knife upraised in his hand, and told her to shoot him, they said.
But in an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Kingnuatsiaq said his son said nothing, and the officers entered the home when there was no sign of danger.
“Most of it is not true at all,” he said.
Mr. Kingnuatsiaq and the RCMP agree the woman had left before they arrived, although the RCMP say they weren’t aware of this when they entered the house.
Mr. Kingnuatsiaq is the first person with direct knowledge of the events to challenge the RCMP version. Several others, including Senator Murray Sinclair, NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Nunavut legal aid director Benson Cowan, told The Globe the Mounties' decision not to inform the public about the fatal shooting at the time aroused suspicion.
“When you fail to disclose relevant information," Mr. Sinclair said, "there is a very strong hint you’re trying to hide something.” This type of secrecy wouldn’t be tolerated in southern cities such as Toronto or Winnipeg, he added.
The Mounties have had several violent incidents involving Indigenous peoples across Canada in the past few months, straining trust and raising questions about transparency and the independence of investigations. In Nunavut, the shooting of Mr. Ashoona was one of three, two of them fatal, by the RCMP between February and May.
Last week, after accusations the RCMP did not do enough to protect a Mi’kmaq fishery in Nova Scotia, National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations called on RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to resign, citing “multiple issues relating to the safety of First Nations people across the country.”
The Ottawa police have investigated serious incidents involving the RCMP since 2010 under an agreement that stresses the need to “maximize transparency.” Even so, the investigations play out behind closed doors and the final reports are often withheld from the public.
The Nunavut government last week tabled legislation that would allow independent civilian oversight of serious police incidents in the territory. It proposes contracting out investigations to an independent oversight body, similar to Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit or Alberta’s Serious Incident Response Team. But it also leaves open the option for another police force to conduct the investigation.
The RCMP and Ottawa police declined to comment on Mr. Kingnuatsiaq’s assertions when contacted on Friday. Ottawa police took a statement from Mr. Kingnuatsiaq during its investigation, the Mounties said.
When the Ottawa force announced in late August that the officer was justified in using lethal force, it did not provide details of the incident.
In its subsequent news release, the RCMP said Mr. Ashoona was “yelling from inside the residence saying he was getting a knife. The officers did not know if the female who had been reported as being dragged was inside the residence.” They entered with their service pistols drawn. When Mr. Ashoona cornered one of the officers with a knife raised in his hand, she shot him twice.
The woman at the house got away, Mr. Kingnuatsiaq said, after he distracted his son. “We were more wrestling than fighting. I got to the point where I was able to restrain him. Then after that I let him up. A little while after, the RCMP came over.”
He said there was no apparent danger: His son never shouted that he was getting a knife. The RCMP officers simply came into the house through a partly open door. He says he asked to see a warrant. They responded that they did not need one. Then they stood in the house, silently.
“They were doing nothing, just standing there. … [Mr. Ashoona] had time to go around to the bedroom area. … That’s when he picked up a knife, it seems, although I didn’t see a knife, personally. They’re saying he had a knife.” Both officers remained in the house, Mr. Kingnuatsiaq said.
He said the officer closer to his son did not shout commands to him to back up. Nor did his son tell the officer to shoot him. He did have his arm upraised, he said, and got to within about four feet of the officer. She shouted, “He’s got a knife,” and then shot him, Mr. Kingnuatsiaq said. After the shooting, he said he still did not see the knife.
The RCMP told The Globe it could not release the investigative report, describing it as the property of the Ottawa police. The national police force has repeatedly declined The Globe’s requests for information about the knife that was allegedly in Mr. Ashoona’s hand, and therefore central to the Mounties' version of events. The Ottawa force declined to release the investigative report, saying it is for the RCMP to address.
Mr. Ashoona’s death is also the subject of an inquest. Acting Chief Coroner Khen Sagadraca said it could take a year, and the Ottawa police report will be released through that process.
The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP is planning a special review of the Nunavut RCMP, but it has been delayed by COVID-19.
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