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Kinngait's mayor troubled by community alcohol problem

The head of Nunavut's RCMP apologized to Kinngait's mayor and council on Tuesday for a recent forceful arrest and the mayor acknowledged his community has a problem with alcohol.

“I know we've got four (jail) cells here... the answer is not getting more cells,” Kinngait Mayor Timoon Toonoo says.
photo courtesy of Timoon Toonoo

The parties met for the first time since an explosive video that gained nationwide attention was posted online on June 1. That video showed an arresting officer in Kinngait using the door of his RCMP pickup truck, while still in motion, to knock over an intoxicated man who was the source of a complaint from the public.

Mayor Timoon Toonoo said RCMP Chief Supt. Amanda Jones extended an apology for the incident, but she also reiterated that Kinngait RCMP jail cells were full of intoxicated residents that night – a situation that has been recurring and is leading to burnout among police officers.

Toonoo admitted that something has to be done about excessive drinking, but he's still searching for a solution. He said the hamlet has requested a local rehabilitation centre through the Government of Nunavut but it's clear that project isn't going to come to fruition, he said.

“They just don't have any funds... without that, it's really hard for people to get counselling,” Toonoo said, noting that there is, at least, a mental health nurse and a restorative justice worker in the community. “People have tried to help each other out but it's pretty hard.

“I know we've got four (jail) cells here... the answer is not getting more cells.”

A week before the forceful arrest, which has spurred an independent external investigation, Kinngait came off a two-week prohibition on the importation of alcohol, ordered by mayor and council. Toonoo said he's starting to question whether prohibitions work because the RCMP's statistics show that alcohol-related calls and arrests were only down marginally while the liquor moratorium was in place.

“Bootlegging gets higher if we ban the alcohol here,” the mayor said. “I don't know if (the prohibitions are) working or not. People say it's the solution but I don't know. I'm not sure.”

Momentum grows for use of RCMP body cameras

While a growing number of political leaders in Nunavut have been calling for the RCMP to adopt body cameras, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made headlines on June 8 when he called upon Canada's national police force to employ the technology.

“The reality is many people in this country simply do not feel protected by the police, in fact, they’re afraid of them. That alone would be bad enough, but systemic discrimination and racism in Canada go much further than just policing. It’s about poverty and mental health. It’s about the fact that people are all too often treated like criminals instead of receiving the support that they need,” said Trudeau.

A short while later, RCMP spokesperson Dan Brien issued a statement confirming that the Mounties' national commissioner “will engage in work and discussion with policing partners and the NPF (the National Police Federation – the RCMP's union) on a broader rollout of body-worn cameras.”

There was no indication of when this will take effect and whether Nunavut will be among the jurisdictions to adopt the cameras.

A representative of Nunavut's RCMP V Division didn't return request for comment on body cameras on Wednesday.

Toonoo said he believes the police should wear body cameras.

“It works both ways – for protection of the RCMP and for protection of the person who's being arrested,” he said.

As for the police officer who struck the Kinngait resident with the pickup truck door, he's been flown out of Kinngait pending the outcome of the investigation into his actions. Toonoo said he isn't yet prepared to call for that officer to be permanently removed from the community.

“After the investigation I'll be able to answer that better,” he said. “It looks really bad right now because it was videoed, but I'd rather wait for the investigation report.”

The mayor added that Jones had no new information for council pertaining to the fatal encounter between a Mountie and a Cape Dorset resident on Feb. 26. That incident was turned over to Ottawa Police Service for investigation.

About the Author: Derek Neary

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