Members of Hamilton’s Indigenous community, along with allies, are calling for justice after an Indigenous man in his 30s was injured during an altercation with a Hamilton police officer.
The officer is now facing an assault charge stemming from the incident but only after video evidence came to light in May showing the arrest.
The officer was earlier cleared by the SIU — Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit — which is the province’s watchdog that investigates incidents where citizens are injured during any situation involving police.
The assault charge came only after the video was presented to Hamilton Police.
“Recently, one of our Indigenous residents suffered a vicious assault by a Hamilton police officer,” said Audrey Davis, director of the Hamilton Regional Indian Friendship Centre at a press conference Tuesday in front of Hamilton Police headquarters.
The officer, Brian Wren, is now facing assault charges regarding the incident, where an Indigenous man in his early 30s sustained injuries to his neck, according to his mom Olga Tomchuk.
Members of Hamilton’s Indigenous community called on the police to take a number of measures, including hiring a specific Indigenous liaison, to address systemic racism and police brutality against Indigenous people in the city.
“Police violence against Indigenous people is not a new thing,” said Davis. “Such acts are the foundation of Canadian history. These institutions have been instrumental in the execution of historical atrocities and acts of aggression such as residential schools, Oka, Ipperwash, live birth alerts, the Sixties Scoop, and Starlight Tours,” she said.
While some efforts are being made toward reconciliation, she acknowledged, no part of Canada is untouched by violence against indigenous.
Nobody from the Hamilton Police attended the press conference.
Olga said her son, Patrick, was allegedly attempting to steal a car when he was arrested, saying excessive force was used.
“This has not been the first time,” she said, regarding her son being mistreated by police. “I don’t think it’s right. They get away with it. If you’re here to protect and serve, don’t do this to my son. Please.”
She says the video she saw showed police placing a knee on her son’s neck and he is now on pain medicine to deal with the resulting injury.
She and her daughter, who both attended the press conference, admitted he is “no angel” but that the force used was excessive.
“He knows he didn’t fight back with the police,” said Tomchuk. “The police offer had his foot on the back of his neck. Usually Patrick gets up and runs but he didn’t this time. He just laid there. It was a good thing there was a civilian there taping all this.”
Davis said there might not have been a charge or investigation if there was no video evidence. She said police should all be required to wear body cameras at all times when interacting with the public.
“All too often their (Indigenous people) stories are not taken seriously, or dismissed, or it is they who are victimized,” said Davis. “It is important to call attention to these matters as they arise and advocate for change that is already too late in coming. Society must always hold police accountable.”
The group called for a number of changes to combat institutional racism among the city’s police, including: that Hamilton Police and law enforcement ensure Wren faces “serious consequences for his violent actions”; that a third-party investigation be commenced into whether or not a hate crime occurred; and that investigations into prior instances of police brutality against the victim or any member of the Hamilton Indigenous community.