An RCMP officer who was found guilty of assaulting an Indigenous man in Slave Lake, Alta., in 2017 has been sentenced to 15 months of probation in the community and will not be serving time in jail.
On Wednesday, court in High Prairie heard the incident unfolded after Const. Licio Soares responded to a call for a man passed out in the street.
When Soares arrived, he arrested Vernon Laboucan for mischief. At the time, Laboucan was inebriated and could not stand or tell the constable his name, court heard.
Soares took the 33-year-old man back to the RCMP detachment in Slave Lake, where cameras caught a violent exchange.
In a video of the encounter, Laboucan is seen taking off his sweater when he throws it at the officer. Soares is then seen throwing Laboucan to the ground and repeatedly punching and kneeing him in the head and torso.
“When I saw the video of the assault on me, I felt hurt and disgusted,” Laboucan said in his victim impact statement.
“How can somebody do that to me when I was so out of it?”
Laboucan’s community, Whitefish Lake First Nation, also prepared a victim impact statement.
“Many of our youth grow up fearful of police because of what they see and hear within the community,” the statement said. “It is a setback in terms of trust and only reinforces the fear our members have of police.”
Chief Albert Thunder added that he believes “police brutality is not an isolated action.”
“It is becoming an epidemic against our people,” he said.
Soares does not have a prior criminal record, nor does he have any external complaints about his conduct other than this assault.
Crown prosecutor Jason Neustaeter said he wanted to see Soares serve 90 days in custody, followed by probation.
“Mr. Laboucan was a person who was vulnerable as a result of his high state of inebriation and his addiction,” Neustaeter said.
“Presumably, the reason he was taken into custody was he was too intoxicated to leave alone on the street. He was brought to the detachment for his own protection. The detachment was where he was supposed to be safe from harm.”
Defence lawyer James McLeod sought either an absolute or conditional discharge for Soares, meaning the assault wouldn’t go on his criminal record.
McLeod said a $3,300 fine imposed on Soares by the RCMP, as well as the impact on his career, were enough of a deterrent.
“Const. Soares will not be working in a unit where he will be arresting, investigating or dealing with members of the public again,” McLeod explained.
“He was not attempting to harm or punish Mr. Laboucan simply because he was frustrated or annoyed with him,” he added, arguing his client thought he had been assaulted and was responding appropriately.
“I’m sorry for what I have done,” Soares said when he was given an opportunity to address the court. “I take full responsibility for my actions.
“I’m ready to accept the consequences.”
He added he was ashamed of how his actions impacted the reputation of the RCMP.
“At the time of this incident, I thought I was acting appropriately. I recognize now that I was not,” he said.
“Institutional racism exists. I’m ashamed beyond words… for contributing to that image. I’m sorry.”
“The six-foot tall, 220-pound officer used unnecessary force in four instances over the course of about 25 seconds against his five-foot-eight, 165-pound intoxicated prisoner, Mr. Laboucan,” Judge Robert Marceau said.
Marceau also spoke about how the assault has much wider impacts.
“This offence is grave because it undermines public confidence in police and the rule of law,” he said.
“Here, it increases the divide between the Indigenous community and those responsible for policing them.”
In addition to the 15 months of probation, Soares must also perform 150 hours of community service with groups serving Indigenous people and complete an educational class on the mistreatment of Canada’s Indigenous people.
Soares has remained an active RCMP member, though he was transferred from the Slave Lake RCMP to southern Alberta as part of a federal policing unit.
When asked about Soares’ continued employment, RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Laurel Scott said the RCMP “understands that the citizens we serve hold our membership to a high standard, and they can continue to do so.”
“Now that we have received the sentence of the courts, we will be considering the duty status and future of Const. Soares,” she added.
Global News was told there is no timeline for the review.