While politicians demanded answers Friday after watching video of the violent arrest of a prominent northern Alberta First Nations chief, the province’s top Mountie walked back his suggestion that the RCMP has no systemic racism.
The RCMP dash-cam footage was released publicly as part of a court application to stay criminal charges against Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
It shows a Mountie charging at an agitated Adam, tackling him to the ground and punching him in the head.
“Everyone who has seen this video has serious questions about what exactly happened, about how it happened this way and about the use of force that we saw,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Tough to watch this video of my friend Chief Adam being brutalized like this,” Alberta Indigenous Affairs Minister Rick Wilson wrote on Twitter.
Alberta Opposition Leader Rachel Notley tweeted that systemic racism in Alberta cannot be ignored. “I sincerely hope that an investigation into this incident leads to change for the better.”
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, in a statement, stressed the need for an investigation to come to timely and thorough conclusions.
The 12-minute video from early on March 10 shows a black truck idling outside the Boomtown Casino in downtown Fort McMurray in the glow of flashing police lights.
Adam can be seen walking back and forth between the truck and an RCMP cruiser, shouting profanities at an officer out of view. The chief tells the officer to tell his sergeant: “I’m tired of being harassed by the RCMP.”
“Sir, just return to your vehicle. I’ll come talk to you in a minute,” the Mountie replies.
A few minutes later, after some arguing, Adam gets out of the truck’s passenger seat and takes off his jacket as he strides toward the officer. A woman in the driver’s seat gets out and Adam crouches as though bracing for a fight.
There is more arguing and Adam gets back into the passenger seat. The officer is seen pushing the woman against the truck and yanking her by the shoulder as she shouts, ”Ow!”
“Hey! Leave my wife alone! You come for me,” Adam says, before swatting the officer’s hands away from the woman.
About seven minutes into the video, a second officer runs at Adam, grabs him by the neck and shoulders and tackles him to the ground.
“Don’t resist, sir!” the officer yells, as he straddles the chief. That officer can be seen punching Adam in the side of the head with one arm while holding him down with the other.
“My name is Chief Allan Adam,” Adam says as the two officers pin him down.
The officers eventually handcuff the chief, pull him up and lead him toward the cruiser. His face is bloodied. His laboured breathing can be heard inside the police vehicle toward the end of the video.
The RCMP have said Adam’s truck had expired plates. They initially stated that the officers’ actions were reasonable.
The chief was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the province’s police watchdog, issued a release Friday asking witnesses to get in touch.
The RCMP’s commanding officer in Alberta declined to comment on Adam’s arrest because of ASIRT’s investigation.
Earlier this week, Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said he didn’t believe racism is systemic in Canadian policing. On Friday, he said conversations and research had changed his mind.
“It was really getting a better perspective on what systemic racism is,” he said. “There are many types of racism terms and categories, as I (learned doing) some research and … Googling it.”
The president of the National Police Federation, a union representing 20,000 RCMP members, said he is “gravely concerned” about how the officers who arrested Adam are being vilified.
Brian Sauve said they could not legally allow the truck to be driven without valid registration and that traffic stops are some of the most dangerous police duties.
“The unknowns of who the driver or passenger is, their background and intentions, as well as what may be contained within a vehicle out of sight, are all risks for both police and the public.”
He said that’s why it’s standard to make sure drivers and passengers don’t get in and out of their vehicles.
Adam’s lawyer said the video shows police haven’t come very far in how they deal with citizens.
“If our police are so insensitive that this is how they respond to a $350 ticket, we have a problem,” Brian Beresh said.
“It infuriates me and I am sure it infuriates any reasonable person.”
Beresh said his client responded the way he did because he knows how police have treated Indigenous people. Beresh dismissed criticism that Adam is responsible for escalating the situation.
“If you watch the video, you can hear him saying, ‘Look, I’m the chief.’ He doesn’t say it threatening. He just says he’d like some respect,” he said.
“He was entitled to have that respect and he never got it.”
— With files from Teresa Wright in Ottawa
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 12, 2020
Colette Derworiz and Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press