Charges have been dropped against a prominent northern Alberta First Nations chief who was the subject of a violent arrest earlier this year.
The case of Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation was in front of a Fort McMurray provincial court judge Wednesday where charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a peace officer were withdrawn by the Crown.
“The Crown reassessed the prosecution standard based on an examination of the available evidence including the disclosure of additional relevant material and withdrew the two charges,” Alberta Justice spokeswoman Carla Jones said in a statement.
“The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service has no comment on the actions of the police.”
Adam said he was overwhelmed by Wednesday’s decision to drop those charges, but knew he did nothing wrong.
“If we are to move forward in any capacity, we have to seriously open the eyes of each and every non-native Canadian to the realities that we, Indigenous people of the land, have had to live with for decades,” he said.
“If there’s 90 per cent of good officers out there seeing 10 per cent of police officers doing bad, well then that’s 100 per cent of police officers doing bad,” Adam added.
“This case, like too many others in recent weeks, shines a light on systemic racism that for too long has gone unchecked and unbridled,” Allan’s lawyer Brian Beresh said.
“If the commissioner of the RCMP doesn’t understand not only the concept but the history of systemic racism in this country, how do we expect the 19-year-old rookie after six months of training to understand that concept?” Beresh asked.
“Today is a historic day because Chief Adam’s case is a call for justice,” he said.
“It is a true victory not only for Allan Adam and his family, other Indigenous accused, but for our society generally. It is a clear statement that police are not the final arbiters of law.”
The move comes after the RCMP dash-cam footage of Adam’s arrest was made public earlier this month as part of a court application to stay the charges.
The 12-minute video from early on March 10 shows a black truck idling outside the Boomtown Casino in downtown Fort McMurray in the glow of flashing police lights.
Adam can be seen walking back and forth between the truck and a RCMP cruiser, shouting profanities at an officer out of view. The chief tells the officer to tell his sergeant: “I’m tired of being harassed by the RCMP.”
“Sir, just return to your vehicle. I’ll come talk to you in a minute,” the Mountie replies.
A few minutes later, after some arguing, Adam gets out of the truck’s passenger seat and takes off his jacket as he strides toward the officer. A woman in the driver’s seat gets out and Adam crouches as though bracing for a fight.
There is more arguing and Adam gets back into the passenger seat. The officer is seen pushing the woman against the truck and yanking her by the shoulder as she shouts “Ow!”
“Hey! Leave my wife alone! You come for me,” Adam says, before swatting the officer’s hands away from the woman.
About seven minutes into the video, a second officer runs at Adam, grabs him by the neck and shoulders, tackles him to the ground and punches him in the head.
The RCMP have said Adam’s truck had expired plates. They initially stated that the officers’ actions were reasonable.
“I don’t understand the reason why he had to escalate a $310 ticket,” Adam said Wednesday.
RCMP said the decision to drop the charges was ultimately up to the Crown.
“The role of the police is to investigate and gather evidence in support of a charge and the RCMP fulfilled that role on this file,” spokesman Fraser Logan said in a statement.
“The Crown’s role is to assess the elements of the offence and to determine if they prosecute. As we’ve heard today, the Crown has made the decision to withdraw the charges.”
Speaking in Edmonton after the charges were dropped, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Police Act is currently under review in the province and there will be a specific focus on racism and abuse of authority.
“I did express real concern and shock at the video that we all saw,” Kenney said.
“We know like in any walk of life, there are some bad apples. And police services, especially because of the extraordinary powers that they exercise, must be particularly careful.”
Politicians have demanded answers after the video was released.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the province’s police watchdog, is investigating the arrest.
In a message on Twitter Wednesday, ASIRT said its investigation into the Fort McMurray arrest will continue.
Adam said Wednesday he isn’t going to call for the arrest or charges against the officers involved. He wants systemic changes in the RCMP.
“If I ask for them to be charged or to be fired, what would that accomplish?”
Instead, Adam wants to see a First Nations police force with its own authority, justice measures to mitigate against systemic discrimination, liason workers to support police and comprehensive Indigenous training for officers.
“Officers that fail to protect our people and inflict violence on them instead are not upholding the responsibilities they swore an oath to honour everyday when they put on their uniform,” said Marlene Poitras, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief of Alberta.
“If they’re going to treat a chief like this, what are they getting away with doing to our own citizens?”
— With files from Breanna Karstens-Smith, Global News