A teenager from Tuktoyaktuk and his mother are leading a proposed class action against the RCMP which claims the federal government is “wilfully blind or … actively promoting a policy of discrimination against Aboriginal persons in the territories.”
A recent statement of claim filed in the Federal Court of Canada outlines a proposed $600 million class action lawsuit that alleges the federal government has failed to protect Indigenous people in the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut from “discrimination, physical violence, assault, and brutality” at the hands of the RCMP.
The plaintiff is Joe David Nasogaluak, 16, described in the suit as a once-active high school student who dropped out, became withdrawn, anti-social, and had suicidal thoughts after a confrontation with police one night a year ago.
Nasogaluak’s mother, Diane, is listed as guardian on the statement of claim, dated December 19, which lists the Attorney General of Canada as the defendant.
Prominent Toronto class-action law firm Koskie Minsky LLP filed the claim, along with Edmonton’s Cooper Regel, which operates an office in Yellowknife.
Kirk Baert, the lawyer leading the case at Koskie Minsky, stated in a news release: “Aboriginal persons are regularly assaulted by RCMP officers because of who they are. This epidemic of assault amounts to state-sponsored harm against Aboriginal persons.”
In November 2017, Nasogaluak, then 15, was operating his snowmobile with other individuals when RCMP stopped and questioned them outside Tuktoyaktuk, a community of 960 on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
“With no provocation, the RCMP officers pushed Mr Nasogaluak to the ground,” states the claim. “He was beaten, choked, punched and Tasered by the RCMP officers. The police at the scene also called the teen a ‘stupid f***ing native’ and a native punk kid,” the claim adds, before alleging officers dragged him to a cruiser.
His mother met him at the detachment, noticed “visible and extensive bruising” on her son’s face and wrists, and took him to a nursing station following his release, the claim continues.
In the days to come, police are alleged to have “constantly” driven past the plaintiff’s home.
As a result of the incident, the teen suffers “lasting physical and emotional damages including suicidal ideation, and isolation,” has withdrawn from school, and ceased “many of his extra-curricular activities,” states the suit.
After Joe David’s alleged confrontation with police, RCMP told CBC North they were investigating the incident, but stated a Taser was never used.
Nasogaluak’s father told CBC the incident stemmed from a debate over whether the teen gave officers his real name when pulled over. Officers also asked if they had been drinking, the father told CBC.
”They said you are under arrest for not giving me your name,” Joe Nasogaluak told CBC in 2017.
“He did that and put his hands on the Ski-doo, and my son said, ‘Take your hands off my Ski-doo,’ and then (the RCMP officer) punched him and rolled him over and they jumped him.”
Nasogaluak’s father also spoke to News/North about the alleged incident.
”The cops asked them if they were drinking. They think they’re native so they must be drinking,” the father is quoted by News/North as saying.
The lawsuit contends the federal government “knew or ought to have known” that establishment and operation of the RCMP and support of detachments in the territories “could and would result in compensable physical and emotional harm” to Indigenous people.
Those residents, states the suit, had a “reasonable expectation” the federal government would operate the RCMP in a manner similar to what non-Indigenous people encounter.
The suit claims Indigenous people are “frequently” arrested solely on the basis of their “race, ethnic and/or national origin.” While under arrest or detention, states the claim, they are “frequently subjected to assault, or use of excessive force by RCMP officers … unnecessarily beating, hitting, pepper-spraying, and shooting.”
The same mistreatment does not afflict “non-Aboriginal persons,” states the suit.
The plaintiff also alleges the federal government “had knowledge of the RCMP’s discriminatory practices against Aboriginal persons,” and any efforts to change that culture nationally have not “impacted RCMP practices in the territories.”
The claim demands $500 million in damages for negligence and breaching of two sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Punitive damages are pegged at $100 million.
The statement asks for the case to be heard in Toronto.
Because of the weekend and the holiday season, Cabin Radio was unable to reach the law firm or government officials for further comment.
In order for a class action lawsuit to move forward and be certified, a judge must accept there is a cohesive group of people with a shared set of issues.
Cooper Regel’s Steven Cooper told News/North last Thursday his firm has a dozen other possible plaintiffs. None of the allegations in the statement have been proven in court.
Cabin Radio will report on the case as it progresses through the courts.