A Tuktoyaktuk man’s class action lawsuit against the RCMP on behalf of all Indigenous peoples in the North has been given the green light to proceed by the courts.
As reported by the Canadian Press, in Federal Court on June 23, Judge Glennys McVeigh dismissed an argument from the federal government that the lawsuit — which alleges RCMP engaged in systematic violence towards Indigenous people in the North — did not legally qualify as a class action lawsuit. Ottawa had insisted the class action claim had no chance of success and instead said people should sue the RCMP individually. However, McVeigh said the claims were against the RCMP as a whole and not specific officers and therefore could move ahead as a class action lawsuit.
“I disagree with Canada’s characterization of these claims as individual,” McVeigh wrote. “The claims do not ask if an RCMP officer illegally assaulted a class member, but rather whether the operations of the RCMP create a system where illegal assaults happen.”
Filed in 2018, the claim seeks $600 million in damages from the federal government and alleges it failed to prevent frequent assaults on Indigenous people by police in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon.
Claiming the government knew about the problem and did not address it, the lawsuit claims systematic negligence, a breach of fiduciary duty and violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It alleges common incidents include officers beating, pepper-spraying, shooting and verbally abusing Indigenous Peoples. It also claims Indigenous people are unfairly targeted by police for prosecution.
“RCMP officers and other agents of the RCMP regularly discriminate against Aboriginal persons by employing excessive and unnecessary force, by arresting or detaining Aboriginal persons for no reason, and by using hateful speech and language in the course of policing in the territories,” reads the claim.
A January 2020 report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator found that Indigenous people make up 30 per cent of the federal prison population. An investigation by NNSL at the time learned 83 per cent of the Northwest Territories prison population — and 100 per cent of women in prison — were Indigenous.
Making the claim is Tuktoyaktuk resident Joe David Nasogaluak, 19. In the lawsuit, he says RCMP arrested and assaulted him without cause or provocation in November 2017, by punching and choking him, shooting him with a stun gun and calling him a “stupid f#cking native” and “native punk kid,” before handcuffing him and dragging him to the police vehicle. He also alleges police stopped the vehicle at the side of the road and questioned him without his parents or a lawyer present.
Saying Nasogaluak suffered “sustained physical and psychological harm,” the claim also includes affidavits from other people potentially entering the lawsuit describing similar experiences during arrest and detention.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
All Indigenous people who were alive as of Dec. 18, 2016 who allege being assaulted at any time while in RCMP custody or detention in the territories are eligible to be members of the class who can enter the lawsuit, the judge ruled.