A class-action lawsuit filed in an Edmonton court alleges RCMP in the three northern territories regularly assault and abuse Indigenous people.
“We know from anecdotal and media reports that this class is going to be quite significant,” said Steven Cooper, one of the lawyers involved in the lawsuit filed against the federal government on Wednesday.
The statement of claim, which contains allegations that have not been proven in court, points to the example of David Nasogaluak, a resident of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.
It says that in November 2017, Nasogaluak, then 15, was stopped and questioned by officers as he was riding his snowmobile outside town with five friends.
The statement says officers beat, choked, punched, Tasered and used racial insults against Nasogaluak. It says he was handcuffed and taken to the police station, where he was released without charge.
Officers continued to drive by Nasogaluak’s home until his mother called to complain. The lawsuit says Nasogaluak suffered lasting physical and emotional damage, and has since quit school.
Such treatment is far too common across Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the statement says.
“It is well known in the territories that Aboriginal persons are improperly targeted by the RCMP on the basis of their race, ancestry and beliefs.”
Cooper, who has long legal experience in both Nunavut and the N.W.T., said the courts must first rule that there is an issue to be considered, which would define who was eligible to be a plaintiff in the class action. If the courts certify the lawsuit, appropriate plaintiffs can then sign on.
He said his office routinely receives complaints about RCMP misbehaviour.
“It is indicative of what’s happening across the country. There’s no shortage of videos.”
One such video documented the apparent beating of Bernard Naulilak in RCMP cells in July 2016 and led to a debate in the Nunavut legislature about whether the territory should form a civilian body to review complaints against the force.
Nor was that the first time the issue was debated by Nunavut lawmakers. In 2015, a report was commissioned into police misconduct. The report was never released.
A letter that year from Nunavut’s legal-aid service suggested it had information on 30 cases of excessive use of force. The service’s chairwoman has said there were 27 civil cases filed between 2014 and 2017.
In 2010, the Yukon government released its own report on similar concerns. That led to the formation of a council that visits the territory’s communities annually to discuss policing concerns.
RCMP in Nunavut have defended their record.
Statistics released by the territory’s V Division indicate Mounties responded to 27,000 calls and held 7,500 people in custody last year. The force received 13 complaints between 2016 and 2018.
Cooper said such numbers reveal little.
Misconduct complaints are always going to be swamped in Nunavut by the huge numbers of arrests, he said. As well, few in tiny, remote communities far from legal advice are willing to take on authority.
“The complaint system is intimidating and not very friendly. Most people won’t know about it, won’t know how to access it and have zero faith in the ability of the complaints commission to deal with these types of issues.”
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press