The first word from the RCMP about the arrest of Chief Allan Adam was of the nothing-to-see-here variety.
So when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for an independent investigation, he should have made it clear that a big part of the inquiry must be about what happened later: the decision that this case needed no external review, and the RCMP statement to the public that the use of force was reasonable.
More than that: Mr. Trudeau should be demanding that the RCMP explain that. Or retract it. So should Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, whose government is responsible for policing.
Mr. Trudeau reiterated that he believes there’s systemic racism in Canada, including in the RCMP, and that there’s work to do to change it. And then RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, and the deputy commissioner for Alberta, Curtis Zablocki, who had both previously been unwilling to clearly acknowledge that systemic racism in the force exists, publicly backtracked to acknowledge that it does.
In the case of Mr. Adam’s arrest, the Prime Minister called for an independent investigation to provide “answers” – but he should also be calling for explanation of what happened after that night. Here was a specific case of the system failing.
Whatever an investigation finds, this was a case that called out for a review that might not have happened.
By themselves, the arrest of Mr. Adam, Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and the RCMP officer’s use of force, require investigation.
But now that the public has seen a 12-minute dash-cam video, it’s the RCMP’s initial response – which told the public that the use of force was “reasonable” – that poses more questions.
When Mr. Adam’s allegation that he was beaten by police was first brought forward in The Globe and Mail last Friday, the Alberta RCMP’s media-relations manager, Fraser Logan, said that the incident had been caught by an in-car video system – the video itself had not been released at that time – and “it was determined that the member’s actions were reasonable.”
The video starts with the RCMP cruiser parked behind Mr. Adam’s pickup truck. The chief can be heard complaining that the police are harassing him. He swears angrily several times, at one point moving toward the officer, and at another assuming what looks like a fighting stance, before his wife calms him down. At another point, the officer grabbed his wife, Freda Courtoreille, and Mr. Adam jumps out of the truck yelling at the officer to “leave my wife alone.”
After about seven minutes with Mr. Adam and his wife interacting with just one officer, a siren is heard, a car door slams, and another officer suddenly rushes through the frame, tackling Mr. Adam head-high, bringing him to the ground, punching him.
It’s at that point that the idea of “reasonable” seems out of place. The second officer never spoke to Mr. Adam before he charged; he had literally just arrived when he was charging. He could not have assessed what was reasonable. It’s hard to guess how his superiors decided that his actions were reasonable.
But even if they did, it seems someone at Wood Buffalo RCMP should have sent that video to higher-ups at Alberta’s “K” division to take another look. Did they? That’s something that needs explanation, in public. That determination, by itself, might have stopped any review.
There are circumstances when an external review is automatic under Alberta law, such as when the use of force by the police causes serious injury or death, but that bar wasn’t met in this case. When unidentified RCMP superiors decided that the video showed nothing awry, the scrutiny might have ended there. It was only after Mr. Adam complained that the provincial government asked the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team to investigate.
Deputy Commissioner Zablocki wasn’t talking Friday about how it was determined that the actions on the video were reasonable. Reporters asked and he said he couldn’t comment because of the ASIRT investigation.
Not good enough. The RCMP doesn’t need to wait to explain their standard for reasonable – and just what kind of review such a case merits. They don’t have to interfere in an investigation into the events of March 10 in order to be forthright about what happened afterward. We were told that there was nothing to see here, and there was.
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