APTN National News
Despite months of notice, members of the RCMP and the territorial government skipped a community meeting in Iqaluit to discuss police oversight in Nunavut.
About 40 members of the community gathered in Iqaluit’s soup kitchen for a meeting organized by local journalist Thomas Rohner, and featured Senator Kim Pate, a long time prisoners advocate, and Tamara Fairchild from the Legal Services Board of Nunavut.
The role of Nunavut’s RCMP has been under fire in recent months, as the number of police shootings has increased.
Members of Nunavut’s RCMP have shot and killed three people in the last six months.
The latest shooting occurred May when police shot and killed Jeremy Nivviaq in Hall Beach, NU.
Ottawa Police have been called in the investigate the shooting.
The results of the investigation will not be released to the public.
To date, no Mountie has been charged or disciplined for any of the shootings.
The other men shot and killed in Nunavut in recent months are Charles Qirngnirq, 21 who was killed in Gjoa Haven Dec. 19, 2016. And a 20-year-old man in Pond Inlet who died in March, 2017. Police are not releasing the man’s name or whether officers shot him or he killed himself.
In February, an Iqaluit drunk driver received a lesser sentence because he was assaulted by RCMP.
Two recent cases of men being beaten by RCMP in their cells on video were dismissed by the Ottawa Police Service, the outside police brought in when Nunavut RCMP need to be investigated.
Former Premier Paul Okalik has called for a different agency to investigate RCMP, and the Justice Department is currently studying their options, with no clear goal or timeline established. Nunavut’s Justice Department is the contractor for Nunavut’s RCMP, and the outside force chosen is their decision.
Nunavut’s RCMP cited a scheduling conflict as the reason they were not in attendance – and the Government of Nunavut Justice Department responded in writing.
“We will not be attending this meeting given the need to first complete the work the Department of Justice is currently undertaking on this issue… we are intending to commence community engagement and public discussion of this matter in due course.”
Even without the Justice Department, the meeting was almost entirely comprised of community engagement and public discussion. Rohner acted as host, and explained a recent study from the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
The study explains different methods for police oversight, ranging from completely internal to completely done by civilians.
This work is new, and Rohner sees an opportunity for Nunavut to lead.
“There’s a huge lack of data, a lack of information. That means policy makers are operating in a black box. They’re at a point now where it is trial and error. Because of that, Nunavut has the opportunity to forge its own path, instead of just
copying what they find in other jurisdictions,” said Rohner.
Fairchild explained to the crowd how the Legal Services Board of Nunavut helps those charged with a crime, reminding the audience of some of their rights when dealing with police.
“You have the right to call a lawyer. I’m a lawyer and if I was arrested, I would call a lawyer. If you’re detained, the question you should have for police is ‘are you free to go’? If you’re not free to go, you’re being detained, and have the right to speak with a lawyer,” said Fairchild.
Senator Pate is the former executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a group that helps women transition from prison to life outside. She called for more local involvement in correctional choices.
“When I was at the jails today, I asked how many non-Inuit were jailed. I was told, most times, there’s nobody but Inuit in the jails here,” said Pate. “It seems to me that the overlay of the system means that those who have come to develop those systems, develop them in what appears to be an equal fashion. But in fact, it’s
a completely unequal application, because not everybody is starting on the same foot.”
Once the formal part of the presentation was over, the floor was opened for discussion, and two translators tried to translate their culture as well as their words. Mary Wilman and Elisapi Aningmiuq were in attendance, and volunteered to translate after seeing some unilingual elders in the back of the room.
After translating, both were urged to speak, providing a long view of Inuit history and of the City of Iqaluit.
Aningmiuq told the crowd about the Inuit experience in Iqaluit, where the system can seem overwhelming.
“For us, for Inuit, it’s very intimidating to go to the correctional facility, it’s even intimidating to even go to an office sometimes,” said Aningmiuq. “It’s even intimidating to make a phone call. If they say ‘there’s no one here to answer your call at the moment, if it is an unilingual Inuk, they may have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Wilman is a former Iqaluit mayor and a longtime Iqaluit resident.
Frustration with repeated processes, and disregarding the previous ones, is always a relevant topic at Iqaluit community meetings.
“It’s been 40 or 50 years we’ve been talking about these topics. It’s like a broken record, to me. 20 years ago, I was a facilator, and there were wonderful suggestions made at that time,” said Wilman.