There’s a consensus among key parties that body cameras are needed for RCMP in Nunavut, but the questions of cost and timing remain unanswered, Senator Dennis Patterson said following a roundtable discussion that he convened on Friday.

“There was no disagreement that this would be a worthwhile step forward,” Patterson said of police body cameras.

There was an understanding among those present that body cameras alone will not be enough to overcome mistrust between Nunavummiut and the police, Senator Dennis Patterson said after meeting online with leaders from Nunavut, Ottawa and other parts of the country.
photo courtesy of Dennis Patterson

Thirty-two people from the North, Ottawa and elsewhere in the country participated in the online discussion, many of them representing Inuit governments; the Government of Nunavut (GN); federal politicians, including Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal; and high-ranking RCMP managers.

A member of the Kativik Regional Police Force from Kuujjuaq, Que. provided valuable insight into the viability of body cameras – including how data storage can be handled – as that police force has deployed six body cameras over the past six months and has plans to increase that number, Patterson noted.

“We were told by Capt. Mercier (of the Kativik Police) that it’s been well-received,” he said.

That Nunavik police force selectively blurs people’s faces to help protect the privacy of individuals who appear in videos, and footage of violent crimes or impaired driving is archived for up to 20 years.

Determining the expense associated with body cameras for Nunavut RCMP won’t be known until an open tender takes place through the existing federal procurement process, Patterson said. Whether Nunavut can move ahead with this proposal prior to the Mounties undertaking it nationwide is uncertain, the senator acknowledged.

“It was very clear to me that the RCMP are actively engaged in this issue, not just in Nunavut but nationally. We’ll have to keep track of how that’s rolling out and what place Nunavut will have in what seems to be a national initiative,” he said, adding that there will also be costs for training officers to properly use the cameras. “Most people around the room were impatient to see something get going, especially after we heard how well things seem to have gone in Nunavik.”

The GN has an agreement with the federal government whereby the GN pays 70 per cent of policing costs while Ottawa looks after the other 30 per cent. However, territorial Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak made it clear during the roundtable that the GN wants to see the body cameras “significantly covered” by the Government of Canada, according to Patterson.

Other topics that arose during the course of the two-hour discussion included a desire for more Inuit to be recruited as police officers, improved cultural sensitivity training for the RCMP and a need for a more independent police complaints and oversight process. Those issues were not explored in depth because the focus of the roundtable was body cameras, Patterson said. However, he added that there was an understanding among those present that body cameras alone will not be enough to overcome mistrust between Nunavummiut and the police.

There have been six incidents in Nunavut this year requiring third-party investigations into the RCMP’s actions, including two shooting deaths – one in Kinngait in February and one in Clyde River in May. Another altercation that attracted attention nationally was a violent arrest in Kinngait on June 1, where an intoxicated Inuk man was knocked to the ground by a police officer who swung open the door of his pickup truck while the vehicle was still in motion. Then five officers subdued the man, who was later assaulted in a jail cell by a fellow prisoner. The RCMP removed the arresting officer from the community a short time later.

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Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...