The RCMP is facing scrutiny over allegations that officers have used a knee to the neck to restrain Indigenous people during arrest.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki must issue a clear directive to officers that this measure is prohibited and unjustified, a defence lawyer and a New Democrat MP say. Last year, worldwide protests followed the death of George Floyd in the United States when police officers used the technique.
A Saskatchewan woman who was arrested in December recently alleged that a Mountie caused her physical harm by placing a knee on her neck. Last year, the arrest of Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation led to a national controversy over police use of force against Indigenous people.
In a statement, the RCMP said it does not teach or endorse any technique in which officers place a knee on a person’s head or neck.
“This applies to the teaching of cadets at the RCMP Academy, Depot Division, as well as in-service training and use-of-force re-certification,” Corporal Caroline Duval said in a statement.
The relationship of the national police force with Indigenous peoples has been under scrutiny in recent months. Some Indigenous leaders have called for the commissioner herself to resign for saying she struggled with the notion that systemic racism exists within the force, comments she later tried to clarify through a public statement.
Brian Beresh, a criminal defence lawyer who represented Mr. Adam, told The Globe and Mail that Commissioner Lucki must clearly communicate to the rank and file that the use of a knee to the neck is not appropriate.
“The procedure is simply unreasonable,” Mr. Beresh said, adding that the Chief has suffered lasting harm as a result of a knee being used on his neck.
He added that Mr. Floyd’s case demonstrated that the technique can lead to death.
“There must be a direct and immediate response to this unacceptable behaviour, which doesn’t really assist in enforcing the law,” he said. “Passing that message to the ranks could occur very quickly, as quickly as the dissemination of an e-mail. That kind of conduct has to stop.”
NDP public safety critic Jack Harris said on Tuesday that the use of a knee to the neck should be banned, and the leadership of the RCMP should clearly communicate this.
“It ought to be very clear that they are not supposed to do the kinds of things that cause the kinds of harm that a knee to the neck would cause,” Mr. Harris said. “[Officers] need to be trained properly and ensure that they are not doing things on their own accord.”
Last June, Mr. Adam alleged that police beat him up and manhandled his wife outside a casino in Fort McMurray, Alta., because of an expired licence plate. A 12-minute dashcam video showed Mr. Adam arguing with an unidentified officer and complaining about police harassment before an officer tackled him.
Constable Simon Seguin, one of the officers that night, said in handwritten notes filed in court and obtained by The Globe that he placed “a knee on the back” of Mr. Adam’s head and cranked his left arm up.
“The male was complaining of police brutality,” he wrote. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team said last year it is investigating the arrest.
In Saskatchewan last month, Emily Kammermayer, a member of Lac La Ronge Indian Band, said RCMP officers tackled her to the ground late last year and used force, including a knee on the back of her neck.
Ms. Kammermayer, who faces criminal charges after what police called a physical altercation with officers during an arrest at the La Ronge Health Centre, said on Tuesday she agrees RCMP officers should be ordered not to place their knees on the back of necks.
“There is never any reason to do that to somebody. To inflict that kind of pain on to someone,” she said in a statement. “To make someone struggle to grasp any air, to make someone feel that these might be their last moments.”
The RCMP has launched a national dialogue with Canadian police chiefs to re-examine its de-escalation and police intervention framework, Cpl. Duval said.
Brian Sauvé, the president of the National Police Federation, a union representing some RCMP members, said in a statement on Tuesday that officers are highly trained in de-escalation, and this is always their preferred approach. The use of force is exceedingly rare, he added.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he will push for mandatory de-escalation training and zero tolerance for extreme restraint techniques “seen far too often used on First Nations people.”
“Every person in this country should feel respected and safe when we reach out to the institutions designed to care for and protect us.”
Cpl. Duval said the force is reviewing a neck restraint technique known as the carotid control, which involves compressing a person’s carotid arteries. As part of the review, the RCMP says it is participating in a study to get a sense of how often the hold leads to injuries.
Cpl. Duval said the force responds to an average of 2.8 million calls a year, and police reports show the carotid control technique is used an average of 36 times annually.
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