The picture of Chief Allan Adam tells you a lot about the force used on him in an encounter with the RCMP in March.
His right eye is purple and nearly swollen shut. There is a cut down his cheek that has crusted over. His lip is bruised and bloodied. This is the image of a man who has had a violent confrontation with someone.
It may also be the face of someone who was the victim of police brutality and the institutionalized racism that often feeds it.
Over the weekend, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation chief went public with his allegations against the Wood Buffalo RCMP in Alberta during an encounter that took place in the early morning hours of March 10. He produced the aforementioned photo, which was taken after he was released from police custody.
Mr. Adam and his wife, Freda Courtoreille, were leaving the Boomtown Casino in Fort McMurray when police noticed that the licence plate on their truck had expired. An RCMP officer approached the vehicle and things quickly escalated.
A couple of videos taken by bystanders show Ms. Courtoreille being aggressively pulled from the vehicle and pushed up against the side of it. Off-camera you can hear someone say: “Take it easy on the lady, guys.” At this point, Mr. Adam gets out of the car to protest against the treatment of his wife. He’s taken down by an officer. There is much screaming by the chief, who says his face is bleeding.
He can also be heard identifying the position he holds with the ACFN. It doesn’t seem to matter. It does not appear from the two bystander videos that any effort was made to try and de-escalate the situation.
Now, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is investigating. It is the provincial agency that looks at incidents involving the police that result in serious injury or death. The RCMP have already absolved the officers involved for any wrongdoing – this based on the force’s own footage of the confrontation taken from the dashcam of one of their vehicles.
If the RCMP wanted to clear the air here, it would release its footage of the arrest of Mr. Adam. If it’s all as defensible as they say, then get it out there. But the force won’t. It won’t because its notion of what’s defensible isn’t the same as ours.
While the world has joined together for the George Floyd protests, we continue to ignore the racism and the police-instigated violence associated with it in Canada. Does anyone believe for a second that if it were Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson or some other prominent white politician in this country who was sitting in that truck that they would have been treated the same way?
Or, imagine Mr. Iveson releasing a photo of himself, bruised and battered, as a result of a confrontation with police. Picture the media mania that would surround an allegation by him of police brutality. It would be the biggest story in the country.
Why isn’t it just as big of a deal when it’s an Indigenous leader? That’s a form of racism in itself.
To imagine that what happened to Mr. Adam isn’t happening often is naive. We recently saw video footage of an RCMP officer intentionally knocking an intoxicated Inuk man over with his truck in Nunavut. Another video was released on Friday that showed an Edmonton police officer jumping, knee-first, onto the back of a man already restrained on the ground by a fellow officer in 2019. (The man’s ethnicity isn’t clear.) He screams out in pain. It’s disgusting. Think of all the encounters between police and Black and Indigenous people in this country that do not go well and aren’t caught on video by someone.
What I find sad is that Mr. Adam said he was too emotional to launch a complaint at the time his arrest happened, plus he needed to be focused on the potential impact of COVID-19 on his community. He also received advice from Indigenous elders that the middle of a pandemic was not the right time to protest against the actions of police. However, he finally felt compelled to say something because of what happened to Mr. Floyd, and because of the demonstrations launched after Mr. Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
Now, because of something that happened in the United States, everyone is upset about racism-inspired police brutality here, like this is something new. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling for all police to wear body cameras, which has been talked about for years and is always rejected by police.
But in the shadow of George Floyd, the Prime Minister is saying it’s time.
The attention span of those who have the power to actually do something about these issues is often very short. My guess is that nothing will happen, and minorities in this country will continue to pay a price much heavier than the rest of us.
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