The latest investigation to clear the RCMP in the shooting death of an Inuk in Nunavut has the man’s family and community demanding more information.
On Friday, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) announced it had cleared an RCMP officer who shot and killed 31-year-old Abraham Moses Natanine, a father of five, in Clyde River last May.
But as of Monday, neither Michelle Illauq, Mr. Natanine’s spouse and mother of two of his children, nor the community as a whole, had been given an explanation of why Mr. Natanine was shot and why the OPS cleared the RCMP officers of criminal responsibility.
Ms. Illauq learned through the news that the OPS had decided not to lay charges, her lawyer said.
“The whole process has been grossly secretive,” Qajaq Robinson, a lawyer based in Gatineau, Que., and a former commissioner of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry, told The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Natanine, who was studying to be a plumber, was shot in front of Ms. Illauq. Ottawa police said only that the Mounties were responding to a domestic disturbance in a home, and that there were no reasonable grounds to charge any of the officers. Ms. Illauq has said the force used was unnecessary, Mr. Natanine’s death preventable, and that he did not have a weapon in his hands.
“At a minimum, prior to it being announced publicly, on a Friday afternoon, victim services should have been notified,” Ms. Robinson said. “Victim services should have been prepared to notify her in a trauma-informed way, ensuring she had the support and services she needed to receive the news. ... She’s incredibly distraught.”
Benson Cowan, chief executive officer of Nunavut Legal Aid, said in an interview: “How many times do we have to go through this? It’s invariably an Inuk who is shot and killed at rates that are, as with Indigenous people across the country, higher than any other ethnic or cultural group. And yet their own government refuses to take any steps to change the status quo.”
The Ottawa police investigate shootings in the territory of 39,000 people under an agreement with the Nunavut government and the RCMP.
Amanda Jones, the RCMP’s Chief Superintendent in Nunavut, said the force is preparing a news release on the investigation that should be ready Tuesday afternoon. She added that the RCMP will contact the family before it is made public.
George Hickes, Nunavut’s Justice Minister, declined to be interviewed by The Globe. But a spokesman, Mark Witzaney, said in an e-mail that the government is in “active discussions with civilian-led organizations that specialize in investigations into serious police-involved incidents. We have also supported the adoption of body-worn cameras by RCMP officers in Nunavut, which are currently being successfully rolled out.”
The investigative process in the Natanine case is similar to one followed after the fatal shooting of Attachie Ashoona in February of last year. The OPS announced in August it had cleared the officer who shot the 39-year-old Mr. Ashoona dead in his home, but provided no details. It was three days before the RCMP published a news release with details on the incident and the OPS conclusion.
Afterwards, Mr. Ashoona’s father, Goo Kingnuatsiaq, the only civilian witness to the shooting, told The Globe the Mounties entered his son’s home when there was no danger. Police said Mr. Ashoona had a knife raised near an officer, who shot him twice to protect herself. Mr. Kingnuatsiaq said he never saw the knife. The RCMP said it could not release the investigative report, which it described as the property of the Ottawa police. (Ottawa police decline to answer questions on their investigations of Nunavut RCMP.)
Mr. Cowan said the RCMP and the Nunavut government appear to accept “the clear unfairness and cruelty, frankly, of the current practice of providing no information.”
He added: “Not only is there no way for the family of the deceased to have any insight into what happened, but the public has no ability to assess or to understand or to appreciate in any way the actions of the police officer.”
While an inquest will be held, he said it could take three to four years to begin.
Last October, the territory introduced a bill that would allow an independent agency to investigate serious police incidents, as in the rest of Canada; however, another police agency could be asked to investigate. The bill is still before the Nunavut legislature.
“We spent a year almost where there’s been a sustained conversation about improving police oversight in Nunavut,” Mr. Cowan said. “I think it’s fair to say the government of Nunavut and the RCMP have done the least possible that they can in these circumstances, and have demonstrated a fundamental indifference to the interests of Nunavummiut.”
Mr. Witzaney said that while the Justice Ministry cannot comment on the specifics of the investigation, “the minister expresses his sincere condolences to the family of the deceased. Our department will continue to work with our policing partners and is committed to building positive relations between the RCMP and our communities.”
He added that the department intends to create a police council with members nominated by an Inuit organization that would “assist in priority-setting” for the RCMP, and be chaired by the deputy justice minister.
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