Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 20, 2016 - 10:00 am

Investigation into Nunavut cellblock brutality taking “way too long:” lawyer

“Police have a long history of… what’s the opposite of transparency? Opaqueness"

THOMAS ROHNER
After RCMP officers leave Ejetsiak's cell Jan. 2, 2015 video footage provided to Nunatsiaq News shows the man lying hunched over his knees on the floor with a pool of blood collecting beneath his face.
After RCMP officers leave Ejetsiak's cell Jan. 2, 2015 video footage provided to Nunatsiaq News shows the man lying hunched over his knees on the floor with a pool of blood collecting beneath his face.

An ongoing police investigation into allegations of police brutality by Iqaluit RCMP, announced in February 2015, is taking “way too long” by “any normal standards for a police investigation.”

And that investigation, which the Nunavut RCMP asked the Ottawa Police Services, or OPS, to do, has taken place behind an “unacceptable” veil of secrecy to “protect the profession of policing.”

That’s all according to experts in police oversight who recently weighed in on the ongoing external investigation.

The incident under investigation involves Eetooloo Ejetsiak, an Iqaluit man shown naked in cellblock video footage at the Iqaluit RCMP detachment on Jan. 2, 2015.

The footage shows an intoxicated Ejetsiak confronted by three uniformed officers before one of the officers sucker-punches Ejetsiak with a fist holding a taser gun.

Ejetsiak then crumples to the ground in the video and a pool of blood collects under his face.

Ejetsiak is currently serving time in a federal institution. It’s been 15 months since his complaint of police brutality was filed.

According to one expert, it appears that some police departments intentionally delay investigations into police misconduct.

B.C. lawyer Doug King, who has dealt with hundreds of police complaints during his 12 years as a civil litigator, told Nunatsiaq News those delays can prevent or discourage a complainant from filing a civil claim against the police, which has to be done within two years of the alleged incident.

“We suspect that’s been an issue in many cases, but being able to prove it is another thing, especially when police have control over the information and investigation,” King said.

A number of factors can prolong an investigation into police misconduct, including the nature and seriousness of the incident, and the number of people involved in the incident, said Paul McKenna, who has spent decades working on police accountability and transparency as a civilian staff member within police services across Canada.

After viewing the cellblock footage and reading earlier Nunatsiaq News stories on the incident, McKenna said that “by any normal standards for a police investigation — even one that was complete, thorough and careful —it seems inordinate that it would take 15 months.

“The issues, individuals and elements are reasonably straightforward and would require quite a straightforward effort.”

Whether this investigation will be thorough and careful — nobody knows, McKenna said.

That’s because neither the OPS nor the RCMP make public any part of the investigation report other than the official finding.

That undermines the public’s trust in police accountability, McKenna said.

“A key issue for why we need more information in these reports is to be able to establish patterns of police misconduct for individual officers or for the RCMP in general.”

And the lack of transparency, said McKenna, highlights the bias, real or perceived, involved when one police organization investigates another.

“Who knows what kinds of friendships and allegiances are shared between the OPS and RCMP in Iqaluit? Maybe some officers were in police college together, or maybe some Ottawa police used to be with the RCMP. As a deeply informed observer and critic of police, that’s problematic.”

Police across Canada often use privacy legislation “creatively and cleverly” to withhold information in the public’s interest and to their advantage, McKenna said.

“Police have a long history of… what’s the opposite of transparency? Opaqueness. And the RCMP is perhaps the most conservative of all police services.”

In some Canadian jurisdictions, although not in Nunavut, a civilian oversight body investigates allegations of serious police misconduct.

But most police oversight boards in Canada employ retired police officers who “magically become civilians” but tend to “protect the profession of policing,” McKenna said.

“We have a long way to go on these issues of transparency and accountability, and you’re in an area where there’s even a further gap to close.”

The Nunavut RCMP did not respond to an interview request for this story.

The OPS responded to an interview request by saying “the investigation is not all complete yet.”

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