Community leaders in Nunavut are demanding answers after an RCMP officer was cleared of criminal misconduct in the fatal shooting of a former Inuk artist for which no details except the victim’s name have been released to the public.
Attachie Ashoona was shot dead on Feb. 26 in Kinngait. The next day, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) sent two homicide detectives and two forensic specialists to investigate whether the RCMP had committed a criminal act. The shooting of Mr. Ashoona is one of three by the RCMP in Nunavut since February. Two were fatal. Canada has had six fatal police shootings involving Indigenous people since April, but while the deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in New Brunswick seized national attention, the Nunavut deaths have gone largely unreported.
Under an agreement with the Mounties and the Nunavut Justice Department, the OPS investigates RCMP shootings in the territory of 39,000 people.
An artist named Attachie Ashoona, born May 31, 1981, is described in the database of the Inuit Art Foundation as a carver and sculptor in stone. The Globe and Mail has confirmed with a cousin in Ottawa, Kuzy Curley, that he is the one who was shot. He is from a family of storied artists, including two winners of the Order of Canada, his great-grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona, in 1977, and his grandfather Kiawak Ashoona, in 1999. Mr. Ashoona, who went by the nickname Arch, was shot in front of his father, Mr. Curley said.
On Monday, the OPS reported that it had interviewed five RCMP members and 10 civilian witnesses, and “determined that the RCMP officer’s use of lethal force did not exceed the use of force necessary to control the situation, as per Section 25 of the Criminal Code of Canada.” Section 25 says an officer is justified in using lethal force only if they believe on reasonable grounds that it is “necessary for the self-preservation of the person or the preservation of any one under that person’s protection from death or grievous bodily harm.”
The OPS news release, issued by Superintendent Chris Renwick, added: “There were no grounds in the evidence to proceed with criminal charges against the officer.”
The officer who shot Mr. Ashoona is not named in the news release. The type of weapon used is not disclosed, nor is the number of shots fired at Mr. Ashoona specified. The circumstances that led to the shooting are not mentioned. Nor, apart from the number of individuals interviewed, does the news release reveal the type of evidence that the OPS investigators had. The cause of death is not mentioned.
Supt. Renwick did not return a phone message late Monday afternoon left with an officer in the OPS communications office.
Mr. Curley said the lack of information shows that the police are “disrespecting” the Ashoona family, adding: “We’re not being told what’s happened.”
“I’ve been keeping in touch with my family up north and they don’t know what’s going on,” Mr. Curley said. “It’s going to be tough for us to get over. ... They’re hiding, they’re hiding something.”
Amanda Jones, the RCMP’s chief superintendent in Nunavut, said in a text that she did not have access to the file on the case late Monday afternoon, and did not respond to a request to lay out the broad circumstances of the shooting of Mr. Ashoona.
The RCMP’s Nunavut website has no news release about the incident from the date it happened or any time afterward.
The office of Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said it was not prepared to comment or provide information on Monday.
Kinngait Mayor Timoon Toonoo told The Globe he has been asking for information about the shooting.
“We don’t know,” he said about what led to the shooting. “We haven’t got the report back from the RCMP.”
André Landry, a staff lawyer with Nunavut Legal Aid, with responsibility for Kinngait, said that to his knowledge, Mr. Ashoona’s name was not formally released until Monday, although he had learned it through contacts in the community.
“A scientific finding of nothing is still a finding,” he said in an interview of the OPS decision to clear the officer involved. “We really have no details about what the situation was, what was the context that police felt it necessary to unholster their sidearm – I’m assuming it was a sidearm. We’ve been kept in the dark.”
Benson Cowan, chief executive officer of Nunavut Legal Aid, has been calling for the creation of civilian body to investigate police shootings in the territory. He said the Ottawa Police Service news release highlights the problem: “There’s no transparency in terms of what happened, there’s no transparency about the nature of the investigation. So how are we possibly supposed to assess anything here?”
He added: “I suspect that the OPS and the RCMP will just sort of shrug and say, ‘This respects people’s privacy. Because there was no criminal offence we don’t release information.’ This is precisely why you need a civilian body that has a specific mandate to look into these [shootings] and has reporting obligations as well.”
Nunavut’s Justice Minister said in June that she intends to create such an agency.
Kinngait is the community in which two videos have surfaced since June showing violent arrests of Inuit men. The Ottawa police are investigating the first of those incidents, in which an officer driving a vehicle knocked a man down with an open car door.
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