A Yukon First Nation chief wants to know how the RCMP is going to improve its procedures following allegations that one of its officers used excessive force during a recent arrest.
Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Chief Eric Fairclough was one of about 40 people to attend a demonstration in front of the RCMP building on Friday afternoon.
They came from all over the territory, but Fairclough said many protesters were from the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation.
Several people brought homemade signs with messages ranging from ‘Stop police brutality’ to ‘I was afraid to protest but I want my daughter to learn to be courageous,’ while others played the drums and recited prayers.
In an interview afterwards, Fairclough said the gathering was meant to send a message to the RCMP that people are concerned.
“This issue cannot be left alone and has to be dealt with,” he said.
Fairclough was referring to a violent arrest that was video-recorded on a cellphone in a Jeckell Street home on Sunday, April 5.
In the short video, which was posted to Facebook the same day, an unidentified police officer is seen punching Joshua Skookum in the face while trying to arrest him.
It has since been viewed over 900,000 times.
Some witnesses are heard yelling at the officer, while others are crying.
“I did nothing man,” Skookum tells the officer, who was later reassigned to administrative duties.
Fairclough said Skookum’s arrest brings back memories of what happened to Raymond Silverfox, a Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation member who died in police custody in 2008 after spending 13 and a half hours in a cell at the Whitehorse RCMP detachment.
During that time he was severely ill, vomited 26 times and begged officers to help. A video of the ordeal shows police mocking him.
He eventually died of sepsis and acute pneumonia from inhaling his own vomit.
“In our meeting, I told them (RCMP) that I wasn’t happy with what I saw in the video, that it looked like excessive force,” Fairclough said.
“We thought that things would turn around with the RCMP when we went through the Silverfox case. There were recommendations made and so on.
“There needs to be an improvement in the way in which officers conduct themselves and make decisions, especially with First Nation people.”
In a news release last week, RCMP Insp. Archie Thompson said the Mounties have to be publicly responsible for their actions, which includes the use of force. But he also said the video only tells part of the story.
“Social media does not always allow viewers the benefit of context or offer the totality of events, including the moments leading up to the point where the video started,” he wrote.
Thompson said the Mounties have no issue with people protesting peacefully. “I actually had a good conversation with some of the people involved,” he said Monday morning.
The RCMP initially started its own investigation into the incident, with the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team assigned to conduct a file review. But the team has since taken over the investigation.
In a news release on Friday, a spokesperson said “it was simply determined the particular incident required a higher level of engagement to ensure independence and objectivity.”
The team, the RCMP and Yukon government are working towards appointing a community liaison to the investigation.
Fairclough said he spoke to Thompson on Friday to discuss how a member of the First Nation could fill that role.
“I gave them a few names and we talked about it for a bit,” he said.
“One way or another the community wants to hear back from the RCMP about how things are going to be improved, if they’re taking this matter seriously, because people are frustrated.”
Contact Myles Dolphin at firstname.lastname@example.org