Video depicting violent arrest of N.L. Indigenous man shows systemic racism: council

JOHN’S — The president of a Labrador Indigenous council says he is disgusted and angry following the release of a video depicting a municipal enforcement officer throwing a handcuffed Indigenous man to the ground.

Todd Russell, president of the NunatuKavut Community Council, which represents about 6,000 Inuit in south and central Labrador, says the footage is an example of systemic racism in Canada and is calling for an investigation.

“It is a manifestation of the bias and discrimination that is within the law enforcement systems within this country and certainly within the justice system in this country,” Russell said in an interview Monday. “And these are facts. These are not debatable any more.”

The footage, a copy of which was posted to social media Friday, appears to show an officer holding an Inuk man against the hood of a Happy Valley-Goose Bay municipal enforcement vehicle.

The man’s hands are behind his back and the officer is grabbing the man by the back of his hooded shirt. As the man turns slightly to his right, toward the officer, the officer swiftly throws him onto the ground.

Russell said he wants an investigation into the incident, into the protocols of Happy Valley-Goose Bay municipal enforcement officers, and into whether there have been previous complaints about officers’ use of force.

“I think what’s surprising is that you have a municipal enforcement officer who’s supposed to be enforcing municipal bylaws actually handcuffing people, taking them into custody,” Russell said.

Russell said he understands the officer was equipped with a body camera and that there could be footage of the incident taken by the device. The Newfoundland and Labrador privacy commissioner’s office confirmed Monday the town introduced a body cam policy for its enforcement officers a few weeks ago.

On Monday, a spokesman for the town would not give any information about the investigation or whether the officer was equipped with a body camera.

The town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay issued a statement Saturday stating the officer in the video had been put on administrative leave and that it was seeking an independent agency to conduct an investigation. The release did not say what agency the town will approach.

Labrador Progressive Conservative member Lela Evans posted the video of the arrest, which Russell viewed. She said a friend had sent it to her.

“I’m really cautious about posting videos … But when I saw this video, I thought, ‘Okay, this is a huge issue,”’ she said in an interview Monday.

Both Evans and Russell said the incident happened Friday. The man in the video is Inuk and homeless, Evans said, adding the incident took place in a public area of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which has a population of around 8,000 people.

Evans said she has been told the man in the video is doing well. But, she said, he was hurt when he was thrown to ground. “Just imagine now, being thrown head first into the ground with no way to protect yourself.”

She said she supports an investigation into the arrest but stopped short of stating that the footage is an example of systemic racism.

“If we’ve got a rogue cop, a racist cop, it’s singular … I’m saying that his behaviour from an authority perspective, needs to be investigated.”

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