While body cameras may increase accountability to the public, independent governance is sorely needed when investigating the RCMP
The issue: Police accountability
We say: Progress worth the price
Yet another troubling incident where Nunavut RCMP members have been investigated for misconduct during arrest and found free of criminal intent was concluded recently.
The arrest in question was of an intoxicated man in Kinngait being struck by the door of a moving RCMP vehicle, before no fewer than five officers surrounded the man to subdue him. In video from the incident, an officer on the ground to the left of the screen can be seen drawing his knee back and appears to deliver a blow to the suspect.
What happens in the video is troubling, but what happened following the video could be argued to be even more so – since what happened, in the eyes of those making decisions, was not illegal.
A review of the arrest was completed by Ottawa Police Services (OPS), the body responsible for policing Nunavut’s police.
There have been several conduct reviews in the territory this year following deadly police encounters in Kinngait on Feb. 26 and May 5 in Clyde River. The February incident also cleared the officer in question and the official report from OPS shed light on the dangerous nature of the incident that gave the RCMP members what was determined to be reasonable cause to draw and fire their weapons.
Though the details of the February shooting were eventually released, one problem with this method of information dissemination was the six months it took for OPS to review and return the file to Nunavut’s V Division. This is a gruelling amount of time for families and communities to wait for closure on these incidents. The investigation into the Clyde River incident has yet to be concluded.
Though we certainly cannot rely on the court of public opinion in such matters, it’s no wonder the push to equip our police service with body-worn cameras has gained such traction. The public wants to be able to judge with our own eyes what we’re seeing take place. Video evidence is not always conclusive, but is a vast improvement over these sorts of dangerous calls going sight unseen.
On Nov. 30, RCMP in Iqaluit were equipped with the first eight body cameras to be used by their officers, two per shift, in a national pilot project. The number of Mounties wearing cameras will increase by two per shift Jan. 11 and again on Feb. 15, 2021, at which point all general duty members on each shift will be wearing the devices.
The onus to have those devices switched on and recording falls on each officer, however.
Whether you believe that body cameras will increase accountability to the public, or think that the money could be better spent on training and more mental health resources for RCMP members, the Dept. of Justice must move quickly and decisively to create an independent oversight body to investigate these sorts of incidents.
While police should retain a presence on such a committee or board due to their expertise on law enforcement, we need to hear from representatives of Inuit organizations, from Elders, from social workers and from lawyers.
They will bring a needed breadth of perspective and different recommendations to situations in desperate need of clarity.