Some of Nunavut’s political leaders are condemning the conduct of the RCMP based on a video showing a forceful arrest in Kinngait on Monday night.

Jeannie Ehaloak: “It is only through accountability that the RCMP will continue to build a strong and healthy relationship with Nunavummiut.”
photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut

Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said she’s “very concerned by the unnecessary force, the violence and the lack of respect I have seen. Nunavummiut should not fear this kind of treatment and disregard for safety and basic rights.”

Ehaloak said she expressed her frustration with the commanding officer for Nunavut’s police force and the Justice minister will formally request a review through the Civil Review Complaints Commission after the RCMP’s external independent investigation is complete. The Mounties also removed the officer from Kinngait (Cape Dorset) and placed him on administrative duties.

“The past several months have been difficult for our territory and I want to assure you that I take this very seriously and I am taking decisive actions to address this situation. It is only through accountability that the RCMP will continue to build a strong and healthy relationship with Nunavummiut,” Ehaloak stated in a Tuesday news release.

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said she saw on the video an individual who was barely able to stand being subjected to unnecessary excessive force.

It’s important to understand the history between Inuit and the RCMP, says Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq.
photo courtesy of the NDP

“With what we’ve seen not just across the country but with our neighbouring country in the (United) States, we are seeing police brutality being captured on video and with the video that came out (from Kinngait on Monday), it’s concerning,” said Qaqqaq, alluding to potential for other incidents. “Do we actually know what those (RCMP) policies and procedures look like? Are we missing things that the public isn’t necessarily seeing? There have been more and more stories of individuals coming forward and saying, ‘This is the way I was treated,’ in whatever community they may be from.”

The member of Paliament noted that she supports the introduction of body cameras in Nunavut.

“I think body cams allows us to see more of the realistic side and more of what’s actually going on,” she said. “I think the best approach to take would be where can we improve things? Where can we create changes that have hopefully more positive outcomes?”

Qaqqaq also emphasized that the historical context of the police force and Inuit must be understood – issues such as the RCMP’s role in the slaughter of Inuit working dogs, acting as enforcement during the forced relocation of Inuit and also as authority figures in the escorting Inuit tuberculosis patients onto ships going south.

Often it’s young, uninformed police officers who are sent to Nunavut and then they leave within two to three years, Qaqqaq said.

“The RCMP is here to serve and protect… I think that when we see more historical awareness, the cultural sensitivity, when we see more of those aspects that those RCMP officers are very often much more a part of the community and much more open to understanding why the current situation is where it’s at today,” she said.

Senator Dennis Patterson stated that “Nunavummiut throughout our territory should not be in fear of the police.”

He pointed out that it’s not clear what actions may have transpired leading up to this video, but the perception of undue force is obvious.

“The individual arrested seems intoxicated and we need to question whether or not all five officers were required for this arrest. I’m sure the questions I’m asking are the same that many who watched this video are asking: Was this an unarmed man? Was there an earlier altercation with officers? As someone not in law enforcement, I don’t know the answers to those questions. What I do know is that this is further evidence of the need to explore the use of body-worn cameras by the RCMP in interactions with civilians.”

Kinngait Mayor Timoon Toonoo could not be reached for comment.

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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,...