Senator Dennis Patterson is going to bring together decision-makers and experts to find out why an RCMP body camera pilot project isn’t proceeding in Nunavut.
Patterson has organized a roundtable, tentatively scheduled for June 15, that will examine benefits and challenges, technological barriers, costs and general mistrust between many Nunavummiut and the police.
“Two fatalities in recent months is two too many,” said Patterson, referring to residents in Kinngait (Cape Dorset) and Clyde River killed in incidents involving the RCMP, both of which are under investigation by Ottawa Police Service.
Patterson also referenced a 2018 Toronto Star report which found that police-related deaths in Nunavut are nine-times higher than in Ontario, per capita.
“When MLA (David) Qamaniq brought his renewed call for body-worn cameras to my attention, it was important for me to act. I know that Covid measures are exacerbating mental health conditions and causing unrest – we don’t want another tragedy on our hands,” Patterson said. “It’s important to renew the trust of Nunavummiut in the RCMP. I believe a balanced, respectful approach is required to build consensus and make progress.”
In light of a June 1 incident in Kinngait (Cape Dorset) where an intoxicated resident was struck and sent sprawling by the door of a police truck in motion and then forcefully arrested by five RCMP officers, Patterson said Nunavummiut shouldn’t have to live in fear of the police. That principle is fuelling him to pursue the roundtable on an “urgent basis,” he said.
Among those to be invited to participate in the roundtable are Nunavut RCMP commanding officer Amanda Jones, Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak, MLAs Qamaniq and John Main, representatives from the Premier’s office, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated officials, Senators Gwen Boniface, Vernon White and Beverley Busson, representatives from body camera manufacturers Axon and technology companies like SSi Micro.
Senators Patterson and White – the latter a former RCMP commander in Nunavut and former chief of the Ottawa Police Service – have both told Nunavut News that they are in favour of body cameras, as have Qaqqaq and Qamaniq, who has raised the issue multiple times in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
Iqaluit Mayor and Nunavut Association of Municipalities President Kenny Bell added his support earlier this week.
The roundtable, to be held via video and teleconference, is expected to last a few hours. None of the findings will be binding, Patterson noted. Instead, the information gleaned will be used to guide the senator in “any future lobby efforts” regarding the potential use of body cameras in law enforcement.
While numerous police forces in the United States and a few in Canada – including Edmonton and Calgary – have deployed body cameras, the RCMP has been studying the issue on and off for a decade. RCMP pilot projects elsewhere in Canada were carried out in 2010 and 2013. In a 2016 feasibility report, the national police force postponed use of body cameras.
The RCMP has cited data storage, battery life and cost as hurdles to adopting the technology.
However, a statement from RCMP headquarters directed to Nunavut News in May reads, in part: “The RCMP continually reviews its policies, procedures and equipment to ensure it is using the most effective practices in law enforcement. This includes researching and, on occasion, pilot testing new technology, if it is deemed to enhance public safety.”
There was also mention of ongoing discussions over protecting privacy.
A 2016 RCMP report stated this about the tool: “Body-worn video provides increased transparency and accountability for everyone, while also providing a first-person view of what a police officer encounters, in dynamic and high-stress situations.”