Alberta RCMP will lead an investigation into an incident that took place at the Inuvik RCMP detachment involving a woman in custody last March.
In a news release, NWT RCMP said following “recent attention to the incident,” Superintendent Jeff Christie, NWT RCMP’s criminal operations officer, had asked an outside police jurisdiction to review what happened.
“We encourage anyone who believes they have not been treated appropriately in any interaction with our officers to please bring this forward,” Christie was quoted as saying.
Police gave little information about the incident under investigation, which occurred in the cell block area of the Inuvik RCMP detachment. RCMP said it involved police officers and a woman being taken into custody on March 20, 2020.
RCMP initially stated the incident occurred on March 3, 2020, but on Tuesday corrected the date to March 20 following questions from Cabin Radio.
According to the NWT RCMP, those involved in the incident remain on active duty.
The details match an alleged incident Cabin Radio reported late last month in which a woman said two male officers forcibly removed her clothes after she refused to undress in front of them, then denied her medical attention.
A spokesperson for the RCMP previously told Cabin Radio there was no female guard on duty that night. “Due to the urgency of harm prevention, the male members were required to intervene,” the spokesperson said.
An ambulance was not immediately called, the spokesperson said, as the woman’s “condition did not appear to require medical attention.”
While the woman told Cabin Radio she had complained about her treatment, RCMP said they had not received a formal complaint related to the incident.
‘The complaint system is really not working’
Erick Laming, a PhD student at the University of Toronto who researches police use of force and its impact on Black and Indigenous communities, previously spoke to Cabin Radio about the woman’s allegations.
He said police forces in Canada lack accountability and members of marginalized communities who may have been mistreated by police often lack the agency to seek justice.
“Sometimes you feel powerless when you’re fighting against the system, and to try to get more accountability, and it’s always a really slow progression going forward,” he said.
In the NWT, Laming noted, people’s only recourse is to complain to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, an RCMP civilian oversight agency previously said to be toothless and inadequately employing its investigative powers. Often, when a complaint is lodged, RCMP end up investigating themselves.
“It’s all internal,” Laming said. “There are so many problems with our system in trying to get justice for people, and the complaint system is really not working in favour of the complainant.”
Laming said it’s hard to know how often such incidents involving police happen across Canada because the public isn’t privy to internal police processes and reporting differs between police services. In some cases where police or prison video existed of officers using excessive force against Indigenous people, he said, the public didn’t find out until months or years later.