Shocking images of police violence, protests and counter-protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, at the hands of Minneapolis police, have left many Canadians shaken and appalled. We can soothe our nerves by calling it an American made problem. That Canada knows better. But statistics say otherwise. Although force is used in only one per cent of police interactions, according to the Canadian Police Association, a disproportionate number of police killings involve race. According to a Globe and Mail report, nearly 30 per cent of killings at the hands of RCMP officers are Indigenous. The CBC reported that 20 of the 56 police shooting victims in Toronto between 2007 and 2017 were black. Even non-fatal encounters aren’t immune. An Alberta Chief alleges the RCMP used excessive force during his arrest in Fort McMurray, and video has recently surfaced of an intoxicated First Nations man being hit by an RCMP vehicle during his arrest in Iqaluit.
Mental health also plays a part in nearly 40 per cent of police killings. Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death from her Toronto high rise balcony, after family requested mental health assistance. Last Thursday, police opened fire during a wellness check on Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, in New Brunswick. Police allege she threatened officers with a knife. Investigations are underway in both cases, but unlike George Floyd, there is minimal evidence to support or contradict the claims of either side. Although police violence is less common in Canada, it clearly happens. Perhaps it’s time we consider the widespread use of police body cameras to hold our police and public to account.
We’re fortunate to live in northwestern Ontario, where the OPP and the Canadian Mental Health Association proactively forged a partnership to provide a dual response to mental health and addiction related calls, and we have a dedicated police force for Treaty #3. Partnerships further enhance the integrity of our police force, from which we already expect the highest level of moral conduct. But expectations may not always be met without accountability, in places with high racial tension. Cellphone cameras have cast a grim light on the plight of police and minority relations. The movement inspired by George Floyd’s death is due largely to cellphone and camera footage. But in remote towns, or places with few bystanders, a body camera may be the only credible witness.
Although costly, body cameras keep both the police and public accountable. In a dangerous situation, judgements and perceptions can be clouded, but cameras record without bias. They can protect innocent officers from wrongful allegations, and ensure justice is served when officers cross the line between enforcement and brutality. The technology is there. We should consider using it.
By Megan Walchuk