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Congress of Aboriginal Peoples calls for end to police brutality in Canada

Canadian police forces need to acknowledge and apologize for brutality against members of racialized groups in the country, a national Indigenous organization said Tuesday.
The screen at the Smoothie King Center honours Tyre Nichols before an NBA basketball game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Washington Wizards in New Orleans, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. A national Indigenous organization is calling on Canadian police forces to make "fundamental changes" to end brutality against members of racialized groups in the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Matthew Hinton

Canadian police forces need to acknowledge and apologize for brutality against members of racialized groups in the country, a national Indigenous organization said Tuesday. 

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples said the case of Tyre Nichols, a Black man who died after being brutally beaten by police earlier this month in Memphis, Tenn., is a reminder of systemic police violence in both the United States and Canada.

Kim Beaudin, national vice-chair of the organization, said police acknowledgment of wrongdoing against Indigenous, Black and other racialized groups should start with apologies to them. 

Police should also adopt meaningful and mandatory cultural training to end racism among their officers and must equip them with body cameras to ensure higher levels of transparency and accountability, he said.

"It is absolutely imperative that we have accountability and transparency amongst our police forces in Canada, whether it be the RCMP or different municipal police forces," Beaudin said in an interview. 

"By doing that, it'll add a layer of trust amongst people."

Footage released of the interaction between Nichols and police shows officers holding him down and striking him repeatedly as he screamed for his mother. Nichols died three days after the Jan. 7 confrontation. The officers, all of whom are Black, were charged with murder and other crimes. 

Several police forces in Canada, including those in Toronto, Ottawa and Regina, condemned what happened to Nichols and said the officers involved must be held accountable.

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police called the circumstances of Nichols' death "horrific and highly disturbing," and offered condolences to his loved ones. 

Beaudin said Canadian police forces need to acknowledge their own wrongdoings and hold their officers accountable as they call on American police to do the same. 

"We got people in our communities who see the police one way (regarding) police brutality. And then you got the police, on the other hand, saying, 'Well, no, no, we don't see ourselves that way,'" he said. 

Toronto's police chief apologized last year to the city's Black residents as the force released previously unseen race-based data showing disproportionate use of force on them. The gesture was rejected by some who noted that Black people had called for years for police to stop treating them unfairly.

Tom Engel, a criminal defence lawyer and chair of the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association's policing committee in Edmonton, said police accountability measures aren't robust enough. He also argued that there is a lack of transparency in reports of excessive force. 

There have been several notable cases of police violence against members of Indigenous, Black and racialized communities in Canada in recent years.

A 26-year-old Indigenous woman was killed by a police officer in Edmundston, N.B., on June 4, 2020, during a wellness check after she allegedly advanced toward the responding officer while holding a knife. Chantel Moore was shot twice in the chest, once in the abdomen and once in her left leg, according to the pathologist who conducted an autopsy.

A chief of a northern Alberta First Nation was the subject of a violent arrest in 2020, and was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer. The charges were later withdrawn by the Crown.

The arrest of Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation stirred controversy following the release of dashcam video showing an RCMP officer tackling Adam to the ground without warning, punching him in the head and putting him in a chokehold.

In Ontario, Peel Regional Police, west of Toronto, shot Jamal Francique, a Black man, during an arrest attempt on Jan. 7, 2020. He died in hospital two days later. The family of the 28-year-old man filed a lawsuit last year over his death, alleging negligence on the part of the force, local paramedics and the province’s police watchdog.

In Ottawa, police reached a settlement in 2021 with the family of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali Canadian man who died after a violent arrest by two Ottawa police officers in 2016. An officer charged in his death was found not guilty of manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.

- with files from Angela Amato in Edmonton. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press