Tłı̨chǫ man wrongly arrested by Behchokǫ̀ RCMP demands answers and an apology

Legal aid lawyer questions the quality of police investigation in this matter and others.

Frankie Tlokka didn’t anticipate he would be arrested after his wife presented vehicle registration at a routine Yellowknife RCMP check stop – but that’s exactly what happened on April 6.

The RCMP showed up at his home minutes after, while he was working on-call as a paramedic.

“The RCMP came towards me and said we have a letter here for you for a warrant for your arrest and I said ‘what did I do?’ He (RCMP) said ‘uttering threats against one of the workers at the Explorer Hotel and one of the security,’” Tlokka told APTN News.

“RCMP said ‘I can’t arrest you right now because you’re working, so can you come to the station tomorrow and turn yourself in.’”

Tlokka, a Tłı̨chǫ man from the dene community of Behchokǫ̀, an hours’ drive west of Yellowknife, said he was shocked and could not recall going to the Explorer Hotel let alone uttering death threats.

According to court records, the incident took place on April 19, 2021.

It’s not clear why it took police nearly a year to lay a charge.

APTN asked Yellowknife RCMP to comment on this story but calls were not returned.

On the morning of April 7, after his shift had ended and before he planned to head to the RCMP detachment, Tlokka said he went to the Tłı̨chǫ Friendship Centre in Behchokǫ̀ to consult with staff experienced in criminal justice matters.

“There’s a lot of thought that went through my head, and I don’t know who to turn to so, friendship centre is there to help people in communities and I went to the friendship center,” Tlokka said.

Before he even had time to find a lawyer, Mounties from the Behchokǫ̀ RCMP arrived and arrested him.

“They just put me in a cell and I had to take some of my clothes off and lay on the concrete floor with a blanket. I’ve never been in a holding cell and it’s not the best place to stay,” he said.

Yellowknife RCMP
The RCMP detachment in Yellowknife. APTN contacted the police to comment on this story but our calls were not returned. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN.

Tlokka told APTN after being detained for four hours in the holding cell, he was released on his own recognizance.

He called the Crown’s office and was instructed to appear in court on April 12.

Court documents show Tlooka was charged with one count of uttering threats to cause death related to an employee at the Explorer Hotel on April 19, 2021.

Tlooka said the RCMP had the wrong person.  His employer confirmed his presence on shift, driving an ambulance at the time of the alleged incident.

“I want to know who did this against me and why? I slept on the concrete for four hours and I want answers. I was arrested in public for no reason at all,” Tlokka said.

On April 11, 2022, after five sleepless nights and only a day before the scheduled court date, the charges against Tlokka were dropped.

Email correspondence provided to APTN from the Tlicho friendship Centre between the centre’s executive director Joe Pintarics and Yellowknife legal aid lawyer Charles Davison, questions the quality of the RCMP investigation.

In the email, Davison outlines what an officer is supposed to do when a complaint is filed – but notes that doesn’t always happen.

“Frankly, all too often in the NWT it seems that what passes for an “investigation” amounts to speaking to a single person (the complainant) and accepting at face value everything he or she says (although, in fairness, sometimes there is only a single person who can provide information about the allegations in question; that is often the case with threats charges, which might be made during a private telephone call or otherwise in a private setting, for example),” Davison wrote in the email.

APTN reached out to Davison who was on holiday and was unable to reply by airtime.

Steven Cooper, a lawyer involved in an ongoing class action alleging RCMP discrimination in the north, says Tlookas’ matter is consistent with longstanding tensions between police and Indigenous people.

He said one way of improving the justice system is zoning in on pre-court procedures and holding institutions of first contact such as police and prosecutors to account.

“What I have found [in the north] is charge first investigate later. In our view, this is both discriminatory and it is just lazy policing,” Cooper said. “Just charge them and move on and then maybe investigate or just drop the file into the prosecutors’ hands.”

Yellowknife RCMP
‘I see people get arrested here [Behchokǫ̀] without being treated fairly,’ says Tlokka. He says he hasn’t heard from the police or the justice department since. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN.

He told APTN overworked prosecutors who travel on circuit court outside of major centers in the north are faced with numerous files and through the sorting process to confirm proper investigations if any took place, charges are dropped.

The territorial justice department declined APTN’s request for an interview on the matter of false arrests but provided this statement.

“If an individual believes that their fundamental rights have been violated, they may wish to consult a lawyer.”

Tlokka disputes the implied simplicity and argued those in similar positions to his own often face barriers to acquiring and affording legal support.

“RCMP should make more improvement to us Aboriginal people. I see people get arrested here [Behchokǫ̀] without being treated fairly,” Tlokka said. “Sometimes they handcuff them pretty tight and the people complain about how they were arrested and how they are treated in the jail cell.”

Tlokka also can’t understand why he was arrested a year after the alleged incident when he works closely with RCMP in his line of work.

“Every time there’s anything happening with a patient, usually RCMP brings in the patient to the health centre and I see them. I was just right under their nose,” he said.

Tlokka said along with answers he hopes for an apology from RCMP.

Editor’s Note: The original story said that Frankie Tlokka was arrested by members of the Yellowknife RCMP. In fact, he was arrested by members of the Behchokǫ̀ RCMP detachment.

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