The agency that investigates police misconduct in Alberta will review allegations RCMP beat up a chief in the northern part of the province, a decision made hours after videos tied to the incident were made public.
Chief Allan Adam, who leads Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, alleged RCMP beat him and accosted his wife in the early morning of March 10. The Globe and Mail first reported the allegations, along with a photo of his bloodied and bruised face, on Friday. On Saturday morning, Mr. Adam released two videos he said are related to the altercation. Hours later, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which investigates serious injuries and deaths involving police, said it will review the allegations.
Meanwhile, Ottawa said it is watching Mr. Adam’s “serious and troubling” claims. Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair tweeted Sunday: “We are deeply concerned by the incident that took place in Fort McMurray. People across the country deserve answers. There will be an independent investigation, which we will be following closely.”
Thousands of Canadians on Saturday and earlier last week joined peaceful demonstrations against racism and police brutality as part of the global wave of demonstrations sparked last month in Minneapolis. The protests started after video surfaced of a white police officer kneeling on a Black man’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The handcuffed man, George Floyd, told the officers he could not breathe before he stopped moving. Mr. Floyd died; four officers are facing charges in connection to his death.
Mr. Adam and other Indigenous leaders on Saturday called for an outside investigation, arguing Indigenous peoples are frequent victims of police brutality and unfairly targeted by law-enforcement officers. The RCMP, in turn, said the incident did not meet the threshold to trigger an investigation.
However, RCMP and the director of law enforcement met Saturday, after Mr. Adam released the videos, photo and public plea for a review, according to Sharon Craig, a spokeswoman for ASIRT. The independent agency, which has the power to press charges, was then directed to investigate the allegations.
The office of Mr. Blair acknowledged in a statement that Indigenous peoples face systemic barriers, and racism often plays a role when they deal with law enforcement.
“We are deeply disturbed by the graphic photo and videos of the use-of-force in Fort Chipewyan,” the statement said, incorrectly identifying the location of the alleged police misconduct. “People across the country have serious questions about this incident, and they deserve fulsome answers.”
Mr. Blair previously led the Toronto Police Service.
“While we cannot comment on a specific case that is before the courts, we will be following the developments of these serious and troubling claims closely,” the statement said.
Mr. Adam told The Globe police beat him and accosted his wife, Freda Courtoreille, outside Fort McMurray’s Boomtown Casino in March. The incident, he said, started around 2 a.m. over an expired licence plate. The videos Mr. Adam released are blurry, and he wants RCMP to release video captured by the police vehicle’s recording system.
“You cut my ... mouth. Look, I’m bleeding,” Mr. Adam told RCMP while they appear to pin him down, according to one of the bystander videos. He identified himself as a chief. “What did you do to me? I’m bleeding, man.”
RCMP, on the video, told him to stop resisting. Officers charged him with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Mr. Adam was taken into custody and released around 9:30 a.m., according to his lawyer. He is scheduled to appear in court in July.
RCMP confirmed officers used force when they arrested Mr. Adam. Authorities offered the chief medical treatment but he refused, according to RCMP spokesman Fraser Logan. RCMP said that while it has video of the incident, it will not be released because the matter is before the courts.
Supervisors reviewed the video and cleared officers of any wrongdoing. “It was determined that the members’ actions were reasonable and did not warrant any internal action,” Mr. Fraser said in a statement prior to ASIRT’s investigation announcement.
With a report from Robert Fife in Ottawa