Editor’s note: A warning that this story contains graphic details.
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said Saturday that he is sharing the story of an arrest where he alleges he was beaten by RCMP officers because “enough is enough” when it comes to what racialized Canadians face during arrests.
“Because we (First Nations) are a minority — and nobody speaks up for us — every time our people do wrong, the RCMP… they always seem to use excessive force. And that has to stop. Enough is enough,” Adam said at a Saturday morning news conference in Fort McMurray, Atla.
The RCMP said the use of force was “required” and it was determined that the members’ actions were reasonable and did not meet the threshold for an investigation, but Alberta’s police oversight agency has since said it has been directed to investigate.
Adam said Saturday that he and his family had been leaving a casino on March 10 when an RCMP officer approached them about an expired tag on their vehicle licence plates.
He alleges that the officers were already watching them from across several parking lots as they loaded into the car shortly after 2 a.m.
“My wife noticed that there was an RCMP panel that was parked two parking lots over. … She said, ‘It looks like they’re looking at us, watching us.'”
Adam said that he went to move a baby seat in his vehicle to make room for another friend when the RCMP vehicle had pulled up.
“Whatever their intentions were doing, (it) startled me, because why are they coming after me, and why are they going after my truck?” Adam said.
Adam said he returned to the vehicle and his wife, who was in the driver’s seat, tried to drive away, when the officer came and stopped them from leaving.
“(The officer) said, ‘Stop,’ so my wife stopped,” Adam said. “My wife rolled down the window, the RCMP (officer) raised his hands, put (them) inside the vehicle, reached over the put the truck into park and shut the vehicle off, and told my wife, ‘You cannot move this vehicle; it has no registration.'”
Adam said his truck had been impounded for 60 days beforehand, which was why the registration was not valid. His lawyer, Brian Beresh, said Saturday the vehicle has been in a police compound for reasons that were not related to Adam himself and that police did not disclose that the vehicle’s registration was expired when it was released.
During Saturday’s conference, Adam described him and his wife exiting the vehicle and reentering it several times as they discussed the situation with the officers, during which he said he made it clear he was the chief of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.
The situation escalated after the officer put his wife into a hold, Adam said.
“The RCMP made a gesture to put my wife under arrest, grabbed her, and put her in an RCMP hold. And I said, ‘Whoa, stop,’ — they stopped. And we argued for a bit.
“My wife, again came out, and again the cop grabbed her and put her up against the truck again and manhandled her and everything,” Adam said.
He added he was concerned by the way she was being handled because she suffers from stage four rheumatoid arthritis.
At this point, Adam said that there were more RCMP vehicles headed to the area and they could hear sirens.
He said that when a second officer had arrived, he exited the vehicle again, and that is when he alleges the assault occurred.
“(The first officer) made his way behind my truck, grabbed me by the arm,” Adam said. “I looked up, and out of nowhere, the second officer… He didn’t even say nothing, he just gave me what they call in the wrestling world a clothesline.
“It was just like a tag-team match, where one officer holds me by the arm and the other officer just comes and bridges me across the cheek.
“Blood was just gushing out of my mouth.”
Two videos were released by Adam’s legal team on Saturday. The source of the footage has not been identified and Global News has not independently verified the authenticity of the videos.
The footage is unclear due to the quality, though one three-minute video appears to show a man on the ground being held by officers. Multiple people can be heard on the recording.
“Stop resisting,” a male voice can be heard saying.
”You don’t have to hit him,” another voice says.
At a later point, a man who identifies himself as Adam, says, “I’m not resisting.” He also tells officers he is bleeding.
Adam said that he struggled to stay conscious but eventually was able to call out again that he was the chief and couldn’t understand why things had escalated.
“By then, I think they realized they were in trouble,” he said.
The office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the footage and use of force left them “deeply disturbed” and said all Canadians are entitled to “culturally competent and bias-free policing.”
“People across the country have serious questions about this incident, and they deserve fulsome answers,” the statement read. “While we cannot comment on a specific case that is before the courts, we will be following the developments of these serious and troubling claims closely.”
Alberta’s Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which is an independent agency that investigates police incidents involving death or cases that may have led to allegations of police misconduct, initially said it had not been directed to investigate the case.
On Saturday evening, however, ASIRT Executive Director Sue Hughson said in an email to Global News that the agency has since been asked to following discussion between the RCMP and the province’s director of law enforcement.
Earlier on Saturday, Wood Buffalo RCMP said in a news release that officers initiated a vehicle stop on an unoccupied and idling vehicle with an expired plate on March 10 at 2 a.m. The release said Adam returned to the vehicle, at which point a confrontation occurred.
RCMP said during the incident Adam resisted arrest and officers were “required to use force.”
The release said the incident was captured on the in-car video system in the police vehicle and has been viewed by superiors.
Adam has been charged with resisting arrest and is due in court on July 2.
Beresh, who is representing Adam, also spoke at the news conference where he called for the police videos to be released.
“This is one of the clearest cases of unnecessary police brutality,” Beresh said.
“We want the police to immediately release the police car videos. Let the public judge,” he said. “We want a full investigation of this case by an independent police force, not the RCMP. We want body cam equipment worn by every police officer who is outside of the station doing work.
“If we cannot trust them, then we have to record their activities.”
Beresh said that the delay in releasing the information was not only due to the pandemic, but for him to do some legal work on the case.
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said he would look into what occurred in Fort McMurray.
“I’m asking for details,” he told The Roy Green Show.
“I just don’t have the details or specifics to be able to meaningfully comment, other than to … acknowledge that around the world we have an immense amount of frustration with how policing has been conducted around the world and we have to listen to people as well.”
Adam said that he wanted to speak out because so many others face similar situations.
“For all the young Aboriginal men that were wrongly committed, incarcerated, and you had no voice,” he said. “For all the women that continue to go missing across the country, who have no voice.”
“I have a voice. And I’m not scared to voice out what had happened to my wife and what had happened to me,” Adam said.
–With files from David Akin