In Nunavut outside police forces investigate the RCMP, but that could be changing

Justice minister says civilian oversight high on the fall agenda of the legislature. 

Nunavut RCMP

Nunavut RCMP’s Headquarters in Iqaluit. Nunavut’s Justice minister says the legislature is in talks with several civilian bodies to investigate the Mounties in the territory. Photo: Kent Driscoll/APTN.

At the moment, if Nunavut RCMP need to be investigated, they call on an outside police force to do it. Usually it’s the Ottawa police that gets the call.

Now, pending legislation means there may be civilians watching over when Nunavut police need to answer questions.

According to the Justice Minister, civilian oversight of the RCMP is close to the top of their list.

“[We’re] introducing this new legislation in the Fall, which will allow us to enter into agreements with civilian organizations for investigations into serious incidents regarding the RCMP,” said Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak.

According to Ehaloak, the government is negotiating with “various groups” for a contract on police oversight.

That list of questions to Nunavut RCMP is growing daily.

There are a number of open investigations into RCMP conduct, including an infamous one in Kinngait, Nunavut.

There, an officer was caught on video hitting a man with the door of his moving vehicle. Four RCMP then pounced on him with one hitting with knee strikes while down. He was then detained and held in cells, beaten severely by his cellmate while in cells, and was medevaced to Iqaluit.

He was eventually released with no charges.

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Policing in Canada 

Ottawa Police are investigating that incident, but another Nunavut RCMP problem is now in the Federal Court.

Four former Nunavut RCMP members are suing the RCMP, saying that when they were in Nunavut their claims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder were ignored.

They also claim they were ridiculed by other members for not toughing it out. Those allegations have not yet been proven in court.

Most recently, a study by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission of the RCMP says Iqaluit RCMP are ignoring police guidelines on police strip searches. The guideline says that if you strip search someone –or remove their clothing for safety reasons – you are supposed to document it.

The report states that they looked at 162 cases in Iqaluit, 158 didn’t have documentation. Instead of writing it down, they have been videotaping the searches, which the commission calls a possible violation of privacy.

After a brief emergency sitting to pass some COVID-19 related legislation, Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly will be back for the Fall sitting.

Amanda Jones is the chief superintendent of V Division, the highest ranking officer in Nunavut and took over command of V division in January 2019.

Jones says she is open to working with the Government of Nunavut to create a more transparent system.

“I think what we’re looking for is a body that would be able to do investigations, so they would have to have investigative skills,” said Jones. “They would have to have some knowledge of policing. If you don’t know policing and have never done policing. It is important that they have some investigative skills to be able to do an investigation.”

Jones agrees with Ehaloak, the current Fall sitting of the assembly is a do-able timeline.

“I do believe they are reaching out for civilian oversight in other provinces, where they have gone through the procedures of understanding investigations,” said Jones.

Nunavut RCMP
A still image from a video of an RCMP officer in Kinngait striking a man with the door of his moving vehicle.

As for the Federal Court lawsuit against V Division, the Justice Minister did have words of support for the actual officers.

“I’m saddened to see that this is happening, to some of our members, within Nunavut. I hope that the V Division can address these, and help our RCMP officers before they get to that point where they need to go on mental and stress leave,” said Ehaloak.

Jones didn’t want to talk about a case that is in front of the court, but did agree to discuss current policy about officers and mental health.

“We do have PTSD, our members do suffer from PTSD,” said Jones. “We deal with a lot of trauma every day, either trauma to ourselves or trauma that we are witnessing to others, and they suffer from it.”

Jones pointed out several times that all emergency service work is stressful, but Nunavut does have one of the highest crime rates in the country.

“When you look at our stats for Nunavut, we’re talking about the highest suicide rates, the highest crime severity index, the highest violence, alcohol usage. They’re witnessing quite a bit. Down South you’re seeing the same things, but maybe not as often.”

Video Journalist / Iqaluit

Kent has been APTN’s Nunavut correspondent since 2007. In that time he has closely covered Inuit issues, including devolution and the controversial Nutrition North food subsidy. He has also worked for CKIQ-FM in Iqaluit and as a reporter for Nunavut News North.