The RCMP in Nunavut have been recorded on video for a second time since June carrying out a violent arrest of an Inuk man, and this time are defending their officer’s actions, saying he was justified in kneeing the man.
But a senior lawyer accuses the force of attempting to “normalize” police violence against Inuit.
“Either they cannot or will not control their officers,” Benson Cowan, the chief executive officer of Nunavut Legal Aid, told The Globe and Mail.
Amanda Jones, the RCMP’s commanding officer in the region, called that statement unfair, saying the officers acted lawfully, and were attempting to ensure the safety of a man who had been passed out on a roadway and responded to the intervention by grabbing an officer’s hand. The officer “provided knee strikes to the side of the body in order to get the subject to release his hand, but only enough strikes to get his hand released,“ she said in an e-mail.
The video of the Aug. 9 incident, which surfaced this week on Facebook, shows an Inuk man lying on the ground with two Mounties crouching over him. The video is shot from a distance, and it is difficult to see what the man on the ground did that prompted a reaction from one of the officers. It appears, though, that the man grabbed the officer’s hand or wrist, and the officer, after trying to free his hand, kneed the prone man three times. From the video’s perspective, the officer’s knee appears to make contact closer to the head or neck area than the side of the body.
The incident, like the one in June, occurred in the same small community, Kinngait (formerly Cape Dorset). In the June video, an officer is seen knocking a man down with the open door of his moving vehicle. That incident prompted a rare public protest in Nunavut against police violence.
Both videos come at a time of intense scrutiny of police brutality, after the Minneapolis police killing in May of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, also recorded on video.
The RCMP put the officer from the first incident on administrative duties and announced that the Ottawa Police Service would conduct a criminal investigation of his conduct, but released a statement this week justifying its officer’s actions in the second incident.
It said that officers responded to a report at 4 p.m. on Aug. 9 of an intoxicated man lying on a road near a beach area in Kinngait. When they tried to wake the man, “he became agitated” and swore at them.
“Given his intoxicated state, officers arrested the male for violation of the liquor act and being intoxicated in public,” the RCMP says in its statement, dated Aug. 12, from Corporal Jamie Savikataaq. As they tried to arrest the man and place him in handcuffs, he hid his arms under his body, while twisting an officer’s hand, the statement says. The officer “used strikes with his knee to the side of the suspect to get him to stop assaulting and prevent injury to his hand.” The man was taken into custody, held until sober, and released without charge, the statement says, adding that no one was injured.
Mr. Cowan, the legal aid CEO, said the two incidents reflect an ongoing problem of police violence against Inuit, and that the RCMP’s senior leaders are refusing to take responsibility to address that problem.
“The RCMP statement on this act of violence is self-serving, one-sided, and it attempts to normalize and justify unnecessary violence,” he said. “It shows clearly that the organization does not take these incidents seriously.”
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