In Canada we have been watching the events of the past few weeks in the United States with many emotions. Most of us have reacted with disgust at the video of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police and most have joined in calls for racial equality. As the discussions have continued more focus has been put on things here at home. The fact is clear that we’re not some bastion of perfection when it comes to these matters and we have started to see discussions about how to deal with this.
At the same time this was happening, Chief of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Allan Adam came forward to describe a recent incident he had with the RCMP in Fort MacMurray, Alberta. He described an incident where they tried to arrest his wife and then grabbed him with “one officer holding him down while he was hit by the other.” That lead to Chief Adam looking like this after the fact:
That was the result of the RCMP stopping Chief Adam and his wife for the heinous crime of having expired license plates. According to the press release from the Wood Buffalo RCMP on the arrest, that the arrest itself and those injuries were no big deal. In fact, the release stated that they had determined that the actions of the officers in this case were “reasonable and did not meet the threshold for an external investigation.” They acted like that was a normal result for having done such an awful thing as having the plates on your truck expire, which of course did not add up at all.
During a press conference, Chief Adam called for the release of the dashcam video of the incident, clearly confident that it would show that this was far from normal. That video was release late yesterday and well, it speaks for itself:
I know that so many saw that video last night and had a horrified reaction. The sight of that second officer rushing in and clotheslining Chief Adam like something straight out of a low-level undercard of a crappy WWE event in Tulsa on a Tuesday evening. The difference is that even in WWE, the person being clotheslined knows that it’s coming & the person doing it isn’t trying to hurt them. They surely don’t then jump on them and start punching them as someone else holds them down. No, that was more like a cheap imitation of a UCF event, with some dude hyped up on steroids beating the crap out of the person they are fighting.
But of all those comparisons, none of them come close to what any real policing should look like. I feel extremely safe in saying that they don’t teach that running clothesline maneuver at the RCMP Depot in Regina, or at any other police college in the country. The fact that the RCMP saw that video and determined that that Macho Man Randy Savage move was “reasonable” and what happened there “did not meet the threshold for an external investigation” are surely signs that something is seriously wrong here.
The timing of this release is notable too given other things that happened in the 24 hours before it. In the time the RCMP Commissioner was making the media rounds denying that the RCMP had issues of systematic racism. Naturally when Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was being interviewed by CTV’s Evan Solomon, he was asked about it. That lead to this exchange, which was so bad but typical Scheer:
That happened before the Adam video came out and I was pissed then. The fact that when asked for his opinion on something, he basically said “Ask Trudeau”, trying to attack him for pointing out the obvious instead of actually contributing something positive to this conversation. He refused to accept what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and other inquiries have long since found on this topic. It took for that video to come out for Scheer to finally make a short statement on Twitter that acknowledged that something was wrong here, but didn’t come close to even reaching the bare minimum of what a proper opposition leader should do. But we can have that chat another time.
For right now, we cannot lose the focus on this and what happened. We cannot lose focus on the acts taken by the RCMP here and we cannot forget the alleged crime here that brought this about. We cannot forget that this all happened over expired license plates damn it. Expired license plates don’t require someone being arrested, let alone manhandled then clotheslined to the ground with full force.
I know from firsthand knowledge this because I have been stopped before for expired license plates. Over twenty years ago when I was home from university for the summer, I was driving into town one day in the car I used to drive in high school. It had been off the road for well over a year & honestly, the speedometer was a bit broken and it could be hard to say exactly what speed I was going. I was stopped by the local police department for speeding, but I pointed out that because of the particularities of my hometown at the time (two different police forces covering the city), he caught me speeding in an area that was outside of this officers jurisdiction. I knew my rights and pointed that out, so he went back to his car.
But then he came back, telling me by plates were expired, something that he was only able to see because he stopped me when he shouldn’t have. There was no physical way for him to see that my plates were expired by just passing me on the road from the opposite direction. But he stopped me, it happened. But here is the part that is most relevant here to that dashcam video above. That officer didn’t pull me out of my vehicle. He didn’t put me under arrest. He didn’t manhandle me for asserting my rights, even if that made things more inconvenient for him. And it surely didn’t get me clotheslined to the pavement at the side of the road. He gave me a big ticket of about $500 I remember, along with three demerit points.
That punishment was far worse than whatever the mild speeding ticket I would have gotten if I hadn’t asserted my rights, but I would argue that’s part of the point. I wasn’t tackled, assaulted, or arrested that day. I wasn’t punched or battered. But by asserting myself in that moment in a respectful way, that officer felt the need to “put me back in my place”. And he did. That was came back into my mind, as vivid and real as the day it happened.
When I saw that dashcam video last night, that’s what I saw again, a couple of officers trying to put Chief Adam and his wife “in their place”, as they felt it should be. I refuse to believe that if the Mayor of Wood Buffalo, or a provincial cabinet minister were stopped outside of a casino late at night over expired license plates that we would have seen anything close to the same as that. Furthermore, since when do police spend their time rolling through parking lots checking to see if folks license plates are up to date? It’s not like you regularly seeing police doing “plate checks” like they do regular speed traps or ride checks. So when Chief Adam feels put upon, I can see why.
What I also found striking about that video last night was the reaction of so many to it, the visceral reaction to that running assault of the Chief and just how that wasn’t right. It didn’t add up to people watching it and surely didn’t line up with the RCMP Commissioner’s words on the lack of systemic issues, nor Andrew Scheer’s denials by omission. That video has become a bit of a Rorschach test for this moment, a bit like the Floyd video from the US has been for so many others. The major difference is that Chief Adam has lived to tell the tale and too many people who saw that video last night didn’t believe that tale until they saw it live and in colour. His word wasn’t enough, nor was the evidence of the aftermath. It wasn’t until that video came out that it clicked. To borrow from a quote by Will Smith, “it’s not getting worse, it’s just getting filmed.” If 2020 needed a slogan, that would surely be a strong contender. We have got a lot of work to do here at home to do better. If we don’t things will not get better, we will just have a lot of video evidence of our failures and that won’t make a difference on its own. Parliament of Canada, it’s your turn to act because this is your mess to clean up, not Chief Adam’s nor mine.