The Nunavut RCMP officer who was caught on camera ramming his truck door into an Inuit man in June “did not intentionally strike him,” police say.
On June 1, an officer in an RCMP truck drove towards an Inuit man in Kinngait, Nunavut, with the massive vehicle’s door open while in motion, according to a video that went viral. The video shows the truck door knocking the man down. Five officers then rush to arrest the man, who is flat on the ground.
After the incident, Nunavut RCMP asked Ottawa police to conduct a criminal investigation into the matter, Ottawa police said. (Nunavut currently doesn’t have its own independent, civilian-led police oversight agency, so Ottawa police have a memorandum of understanding with the territory and Nunavut RCMP, which gives them authority to step in.)
According to Ottawa police, the Nunavut RCMP officer attempted to stop the truck, but it slid on ice and snow, before dipping forward. The door then swung forward and struck the victim, a news release said on Tuesday.
Officers determined the incident was an accident and did not “meet the threshold of a criminal offence,” they said, adding their investigation, which involved travelling to Nunavut and interviewing 14 residents and police witnesses, didn’t find any evidence of criminal negligence or dangerous driving.
Investigators “concluded that the arrest was lawful,” the statement says.
The findings follow Nunavut RCMP’s V Division commanding officer, Amanda Jones, response against the incident. At the time, Jones said the incident was “behaviour that we do not condone."
Indigenous Services Marc Miller also denounced the officer’s behaviour, calling it “disgraceful” and “dehumanizing” at the time.
Shortly after the incident, the officer was taken out of the field into an administrative position.
University of Toronto sociologist Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, who specializes in policing, rewatched the viral video several times Tuesday night and said he doesn’t believe the officer behaved appropriately.
“I don’t see why (the officer) would be going at the pace that he did, with his door open,” Owusu-Bempah said.
Even if the man who was arrested tried to take flight on foot, there’s no way he’d evade the officer for long, he said.
While Ottawa police have wrapped up their investigation, an internal review of the officer and an independent review by the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission are still underway.
That could still result in penalties, Owusu-Bempah said.
The incident highlights how difficult it is to hold police accountable—and how little we still know about possible solutions, Owusu-Bempah said.
While Nunavut RCMP could have—and may have—asked an independent agency like Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit to look into the matter, police oversight groups are under-resourced, Owusu-Bempah said.
There have been a lot of questions this year about whether civilian police watchdogs are effective anyway. Many are staffed by former police officers, most of whom are white, the Canadian Press reported earlier this year.
There isn’t enough research to determine if former police are most equipped to investigate officer wrongdoing, Owusu-Bempah said, but “from the perception of the public, officers in the wrong continue to be cleared by those agencies, and that's going to raise questions about their utility.”
This year has laid bare what Indigenous peoples have always known: police target them disproportionately. Back in June, CTV News reported how 40 percent of police shooting victims across Canada during the first half of the year were Indigenous—despite the fact that Indigenous peoples make up a little more than 4 percent of the population.
Alberta RCMP violently assaulted Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam; New Brunswick RCMP allegedly used a stun gun on 48-year-old Mi’kmaq man, Rodney Levi, before he was shot and killed; and Winnipeg police killed three Indigenous peoples within ten days; among other examples.
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