Manitoba’s justice minister should use his powers under the Police Services Act to call for an investigation into what happened to Genesta Garson at the Thompson RCMP detachment, the NDP’s justice critic said.
This comes after a CBC News report showed a video of Garson, then 19 years old, being knocked unconscious by a safety officer after being detained into custody on the suspicion of being intoxicated.
“It is just grotesque,” said Nahanni Fontaine.
“There’s so many things that are wrong with the interaction.”
Fontaine said it took her a few days to bring herself to watch the video, which shows two community safety officers and a female RCMP officer surrounding Garson after she is taken into custody.
After they ask her to remove her belt, Garson takes the belt and throws it at one of the safety officers, who responds by punching her in the face. She hits the wall and is knocked out.
The two safety officers then drag her by her arms into a nearby cell.
Fontaine said the way the officers handled her after she was knocked out also enraged her.
“She’s incapacitated. You’re supposed to be calling an ambulance. You’re not supposed to be moving people. You don’t know if she has a spinal injury,” she said.
“You have other individuals in the RCMP detachment that watched this unfold. Nobody stepped in when they started dragging, when they took off her pants, when they started dragging her into the cell.”
Because the punch was thrown by a community safety officer rather than a police officer, Manitoba’s Independent Investigation Unit (IIU) does not have jurisdiction to investigate what happened.
While no formal investigation took place, RCMP later issued a statement saying they reviewed the incident and decided not to lay charges against the safety officer.
Following the CBC’s reporting of the incident, the RCMP said they are taking a second look at how the safety officers are trained and the actions of its members.
Fontaine and Indigenous groups said it needs to be taken a step further.
Justice minister could order investigation
Fontaine pointed to a section of the Police Services Act that allows the justice minister to order RCMP or members from any police service in Canada to investigate an alleged offence.
“I want the justice minister to assign an independent policing institution like the WPS (Winnipeg Police Service) … to do an investigation first and foremost,” she said.
Under the Act, if the justice minister considers something to be in interests of “the administration of justice” they can assign an investigation that would normally be conducted by a police service or IIU and farm it out to a different police body.
Fontaine wonders if Justice Minister Cliff Cullen was ever briefed on what happened.
“Did the minister of justice know about this incident? Did he know about it? Did he choose not to do anything? And if he chose not to do anything, why not? This is an utter failure on so many levels,” she said.
Last week, two regional chiefs called for an independent investigation into the case, saying the RCMP can’t be trusted to look into the matter.
Regional chiefs Terry Teegee of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations and Ghislain Picard, of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador sent out a press release calling what happened to Garson a “brutal assault.”
Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said he spoke briefly with Jane MacLatchy, commanding officer of the Manitoba RCMP, last week. She reiterated that they are reviewing the incident.
However, Dumas wants to see more done.
“But we do need additional eyes and we do need to take a look at how things happen, because … what if there was no video of that day?” he said.
“It’s important to have that objective analysis so that you can actually have … credible and tangible solutions and remedies to address the issue.”
Cullen refused comment
Cullen has refused to do an interview with CBC about what happened to Genesta, with his spokesperson saying he cannot comment on specific cases or on matters that are before the courts.
Garson has filed a civil suit against the RCMP, the City of Thompson (who employs the safety officers) and the officers involved.
When CBC first aired the video, Cullen was again asked to comment and he refused.
He also declined to respond to Fontaine’s request for him to order an investigation.
“There is no comment from the minister right now,” spokesperson Judy Braun wrote in an email sent Friday.