RCMP in Nunavut are being accused of failing to protect an intoxicated Inuk man who was knocked down with a police vehicle and then placed in a cell where a fellow prisoner beat him so badly he had to be airlifted to a hospital.
A video taken by a bystander on Monday night in Kinngait shows a stumbling man being knocked down in the street by a truck that appeared be aiming for him with the open driver’s door, an incident that happened as protests roiled dozens of U.S. cities over the police killing of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. The Ottawa Police Service is investigating the officer who was behind the wheel of that truck at the request of Nunavut Chief Superintendent Amanda Jones. The victim was accused of public intoxication, but not charged.
An RCMP officer in Kinngait (Cape Dorset) has been removed from the community after a video was taken of the Mountie hitting an intoxicated man with his truck. There are now six active investigations of RCMP incidents in Nunavut. pic.twitter.com/DraE0R5JSX— APTN News (@APTNNews) June 3, 2020
What happened in the cell is described in a bail document obtained by The Globe and Mail. It was compiled by lead investigator Constable Cameron Smith for the man accused of aggravated assault in the incident in the cell.
Constable Smith said the victim was severely intoxicated and helpless. He was staggering about a small cell after midnight on Tuesday and accidentally made contact with the other man, who was in custody over an alleged domestic assault. The man is alleged to have punched and kicked him repeatedly in the head and face, and kicked and stomped him while he was on the floor, before putting him in a choke hold. Officers entered the cell – described in the document as “blood-covered” – to stop the assault and remove the man committing it. There is no indication how long the assault lasted.
The victim, whom The Globe is not identifying, was not taken immediately to a health centre, the document says; he was “eventually removed from cells when sober.” His right eye was swollen shut and he had heavy bruising around his orbital bone, and blood on or in his ear drum, according to nursing staff cited in the document. The Globe has been unable to reach him for comment.
Chief Supt. Jones told The Globe on Wednesday: “The matter of the cell incident is a separate matter to the matter involving the member and the police vehicle. Charges have been laid against the individual related to the cell incident. Both incidences are being investigated separately and are being dealt with separately.”
But the RCMP are investigating only the man accused in the beating, not the officers who were there, she said.
Benson Cowan, chief executive officer of the Legal Services Board for the northern territory of 39,000 people, said the RCMP had a duty to protect the man.
“When they’ve arrested someone and detained them and put them in a jail cell, they have complete and total control of that person’s physical integrity," he said in an interview. "They are under one of the highest obligations we have in common law [centuries-old Anglo-Canadian legal principles]. They are responsible for the protection of vulnerable people in these circumstances. Their obligation is complete and it is profound. They failed in that obligation completely with respect to this man.”
The RCMP in Nunavut made no mention of the beating in a news release on Tuesday that quoted Chief Supt. Jones on the investigations she ordered. And Chief Supt. Jones, responding to an e-mail from The Globe that same day about whether the man in the video had received medical attention, said only that a nurse had treated him in cells.
The police document said he was flown by air ambulance to hospital in Iqaluit.
The incident seen on the video is not the first time the RCMP conduct in Nunavut has been investigated. Its officers have been involved in three shootings, two of them fatal, since February. Ottawa police are investigating all of those incidents.
And a proposed class-action suit alleging RCMP abuse of aboriginal people in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon was filed two years ago. It has not been certified yet.
Mr. Cowan said a legal-aid lawyer visited the victim in Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, and that he confirmed it was him in the video. Mr. Cowan described him as “just a kid, shy as hell,” and in his early 20s. “He’s been vomiting blood. His face is all puffed up.” He is expected to be released in a day or two, he said.
The man accused of assaulting him was released on bail, he said.
Mr. Cowan said the episode reflects what he calls the RCMP’s systematic disregard for the safety of Inuit people under arrest or in custody.
He said he doesn’t want to jump to conclusions about whether the chief superintendent knew about the beating and did not mention it, or had not been told. Either way, he said, “what we’re seeing in effect is an attempt to cover up a more systematic activity.” (Chief Supt. Jones declined to say anything further about what she knew, or respond to Mr. Cowan’s assertion of a cover-up.)
Mr. Cowan called for an independent investigation, and said if top managers of the RCMP in Nunavut knew of the beating, and did not make that information public in their response to the video, “I question how the senior officials responsible for this in Nunavut can stay in their current jobs."
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