Iqaluit’s Christmas standoffs have lasting effect on RCMP

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An Iqaluit city council meeting Jan. 22 took an emotional turn when RCMP Staff Sgt. Garfield Elliott’s spoke of the Christmas season in the capital.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Garfield Elliott reports to Iqaluit city council Jan. 22 on the disturbing events which took place over the Christmas season in the capital.Michele LeTourneau/NNSl photo

“In the previous meeting I indicated that we were looking forward to the Christmas season,” said Elliott, about a November meeting when he presented his update to council.

But it wasn’t too long after noting check stops throughout Iqaluit, with numerous vehicles being checked between early December to Jan. 2, didn’t yield any impaired drivers, that Elliott reported on the two stand-offs.

It was six days before Christmas that Iqaluit’s first December standoff took place, with another a few days later.

“We had two incidents that involved our critical incident command. Our critical containment team and crisis negotiation teams were successful in resolving the one incident,” said Elliott about the first standoff on Dec. 19.

At the time, the alleged perpetrator, a 34-year-old Iqaluit man, was charged with forcible confinement, assault, uttering threats, and violating court conditions following the 12-hour standoff with police.

Three young children were safely placed in the custody of Family Services after police negotiations with the accused finally concluded the situation.

But then came the Dec. 22 standoff.

“The second incident involved a firearm being discharged at members and police vehicles. It was a concerned threat to the public and members. Members did respond with lethal force. They stopped the threat,” said Elliott.

Elliott also said the RCMP were relieved no innocent people were injured during the event, and he thanked neighbouring residents for opening their homes to police as they dealt with the situation and warmed up. The windchill factor that night was -45C.

One of the alleged perpetrators remains in hospital, while the other is making his way through the court system. Charges, which differ against the two men in their early 20s, range from multiple counts of attempted murder to a breach of undertaking.

That incident was so disturbing, it led Insp. Mark Crowther to widely release a strongly worded statement encouraging Nunavummiut to lock up their guns.

photo courtesy RCMP
A standoff in Iqaluit Dec. 22 led to shots fired at police, and police responding with lethal force. RCMP later released a plea to the public that residents lock up their guns.

“Our resources cannot sustain this sort of continued behaviour. It is both a danger to the community and in most instances irreparable to our members who are having to respond in extreme weather conditions and often in complete darkness,” he stated.

Violence takes a toll on cops

It’s when recounting RCMP participation in community events, such as food hamper deliveries, and attendance at community Christmas feasts that Elliott’s voice cracked and broke.

He recalled one Dec. 23 feast in particular where the community spoke frankly in appreciation. Elders spoke about community well-being, RCMP members served food at the feast, and those gathered expressed their gratitude to the Iqaluit detachment.

“We really appreciated the support,” said Elliott after a long pause.

Elliott also said the incident has had an impact on involved RCMP members.

Several city councillors expressed their gratitude.

“On behalf of myself and the city, again, I just want to thank you for your service, you and the entire detachment.  Obviously it’s a lot of work involved in exceptional circumstances. The ability of your team to resolve situations without loss of life is absolutely amazing,” said Coun. Kyle Sheppard.

Coun. Noah Papatsie also thanked the RCMP.

“You put your lives on the line everyday,” he said through a translator.

Coun. Kuthula Matshazi suggested that it was time to fully move forward with a community policing initiative in the city, which would see neighbourhood residents involved.

“I believe it’s generally understood that when you engage a community in policing you generally tend to have an effective system,” said Matshazi.

He then asked if Elliott felt those engagements were taking place.

Elliott said the initiative began when he raised concerns to the mayor and council about what RCMP was hearing from the community. He said plans are in the works to deliver on that initiative.

“Steps that we can take to mitigate risk. I know Her Worship is working to establish a public safety committee with respect to championing the community policing aspect even a bit further. It’s busy schedules – we’re still trying to make progress in that,” said Elliott.

He said the idea would be to work on the initiative area by area.

“Sort of to take self-control back, build that rapport so that people feel free to call the RCMP. We want to get one or two areas up and running, and very sound. That’s our vision. Then hopefully we can get that spread out and have representatives from each of these areas as a working group to share information,” said Elliott, adding he feels there is support currently and people do call when something is happening in their neighbourhoods.

“This is just another way to enhance that confidence, and hopefully have the calls coming in before more severe crime taking place.”

Matshazi encouraged the Iqaluit detachment to prioritize the community policing initiative.

“I think it’s a very important program to close the gap between the official authority institutions and the community,” he said.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) is investigating the Dec. 22 events, as it is an RCMP member-involved shooting. The OPS interviewed RCMP officers and civilian witnesses, said Elliott, and the report remains outstanding.

Alcohol was a contributing factor in both pre-Christmas standoffs.