The arrest of a Black alumnus at Simon Fraser University on Friday night is raising questions among the student body.
Part of the incident, in which an SFU graduate was pepper-sprayed and Tasered, was captured on cellphone video.
Burnaby RCMP said campus security called for officers around 9 p.m. for help with “a man that was familiar to them refusing to leave the dining hall.”
According to police, the man was circling the room and yelling at campus security.
“The police officer spent several minutes using crisis intervention and verbal de-escalation techniques with repeated requests asking the man to leave the premise,” said the RCMP in a media release.
Police said the Taser was deployed when the man managed to subdue the officer and put him in a chokehold.
One SFU student who witnessed the incident, and asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, described the incident to Global News differently.
The witness said the alumnus, who had paid for a meal, was being followed by security and was yelling for other students to watch what was going on when police arrived.
“The RCMP officer did not try and calm the situation down further and do any fact-finding, and then we watched as he violently arrested him,” he said.
“I was thinking the procedure had to be wrong. Should a police officer not try to calm a situation down before proceeding, or before deciding if he wants to make an arrest or not?”
In a statement to Global News, friends and family of the alumnus said they hoped for a thorough review “so scenes like this are not repeated.”
“Safety and security are, of course, very important. But there is a right way, a more human way, of achieving these goals,” the statement reads.
“We have to ensure that our institutions examine their procedures and provide better training on de-escalation, communication and use of physical force. At all levels, we need to encourage discussion surrounding compassion and ethical tactics.”
Simon Fraser University said it could not comment on the specific incident for privacy reasons.
In a statement Saturday, it pointed to new pandemic safety rules restricting campus to current students, staff and faculty.
“All (campus public safety) officers have mental health first aid, crisis response and debriefing, verbal de-escalation and conflict resolution training, in addition to equality, diversity and inclusion education,” said SFU chief safety officer Mark Lalonde in the statement.
“Police are only called when the situation has escalated outside the role and security of Campus Public Safety officers.”
SFU Student Society president Osob Mohamed said she’s upset about what happened, but not surprised.
“This is not the first time something like this has happened at SFU, and this is also coming after conversations we’ve had directly with campus health and security about police presence on campus, and about the dangers of calling police, particularly on Black people,” she said.
Mohamed said the school likes to promote its equality, diversity and inclusion policies but needs to take concrete measures to prevent incidents like Friday night’s if it wants the policies to truly matter.
“They’re talking about, ‘Oh we have de-escalation and anti-racism training for all of our security personnel,’ right after an incident like this happens. There was no admission of actual fault in that, and there was no apology,” she said.
“I think that SFU needs to also look at how they’re going to be accommodating Black students at this time and making sure that they’re able to succeed in their courses after such a traumatic event.”
RCMP said the man was apprehended under the Mental Health Act and taken to hospital for “minor injuries” from the Taser, then released to medical staff.
He was also potentially facing charges for causing a disturbance and assaulting an officer.
The attending officer’s incident report, along with witness testimony and video are also being reviewed by a supervising officer, police said.
Police were only informed they were dealing with an SFU graduate after the incident, according to the RCMP.
The witness Global News spoke with said the incident has left him shaken and uncomfortable on campus.
“It makes me scared,” he said.
“It makes me worry about my Blackness. When people see me do they feel afraid? And are they going to call security? And is security going to find out what is wrong or will they try to call the police, and then I get into something like that?”