The number of times Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers have deployed force in the line of duty has risen steadily in recent years, although the rate at which they have used physical restraint, tasers and firearms has declined.
The federal police reported using force more than 20,000 times between 2017 and 2019 in about 7,000 interactions – and the number increased 10 per cent over those three years. The RCMP pulled the data from its internal Subject Behaviour/Officer Response Database for The Globe and Mail.
One encounter with the public in every 1,322 results in a use of force, the RCMP data indicate, although the rate for how often force was used declined by a small amount between 2017 and 2019, as officers encountered more members of the public.
The RCMP, which employs about a third of police officers in Canada, has faced outrage and calls for greater scrutiny since a video emerged showing officers tackling and striking Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam earlier this year. Another video showed an officer in Nunavut striking an Inuk man with his police cruiser door.
Every time an officer deploys force, they are required to log it in the database, which is used for decision-making and to determine training needs. The database is not widely accessible to the public.
The information from the RCMP database indicates that officers employed a “vascular neck restraint,” a method that has been subject to recent criticism and scrutiny, in 72 cases over those three years.
The restraint can often take the form of a choke hold, which can be dangerous when improperly applied, or used on someone with medical conditions. Police departments in the United States announced their intention to ban such restraint after a man in New York City, Eric Garner, died when officers used it on him in 2014. An unarmed Black man, George Floyd, died as an officer knelt on his neck last month in Minneapolis.
A 2007 report from the Canadian Police Research Centre found a risk of heart attack, stroke and seizure in people subjected to the restraint, but that good training and guidelines can minimize it. Earlier this month, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she would review use of the practice.
The data show officers pointed their firearms at Canadians nearly 5,500 times in those three years, pulling the trigger and hitting someone in 99 cases. Of those, 26 died. The RCMP did not report whether those people were armed.
The RCMP does not collect data on race or Indigenous status in such circumstances. The Globe has reported that the RCMP was responsible for 61 fatal shootings between 2007 and 2017. Of those, more than a third involved Indigenous people.
Corporal Caroline Duval, a spokesperson for the RCMP, said “99.9 per cent of RCMP occurrences are resolved naturally or with communication/de-escalation.”
Before the data were released to The Globe, Canadians had little insight into RCMP use of force. After Robert Dziekanski died in Vancouver in 2007 when RCMP officers tasered him, the police force was required to release statistics on its taser use. It stopped publishing those numbers in 2010. That year, its officers fired or used their tasers on an individual 206 times. The new numbers show the energy weapons were fired or used on citizens 619 times.
In an interview this month, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said RCMP guidelines and training on use of force has become “the model for all police services in the country.” Cpl. Duval told The Globe officers are trained in graduated use of force, which emphasizes de-escalation, and are required to recertify their training annually.
The statistics show officers struck or hit Canadians in more than 2,000 interactions; used “takedown” manoeuvres in nearly 850; used police dogs to bite suspects in 1,300 cases; and deployed “speciality munitions,” which may include tear gas and concussive grenades, more than 110 times.
NDP Member of Parliament Matthew Green has called on the RCMP to ban crowd-control agents such as tear gas. Mr. Blair has demurred, saying “they are not widely used in this country, and they are highly restricted in their use.”
Asked whether the RCMP should collect data on race and Indigenous status, Mr. Blair said, “I agree with that, quite frankly,” adding that those statistics could help “address some of the very legitimate concerns that have been expressed by racialized communities and Indigenous communities.” Neither the government nor the RCMP has made a firm commitment to begin reporting such data.
The RCMP collects, but has not released, data on the perceived mental state of individuals involved in interactions, the injuries sustained and whether they were armed.
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