TORONTO — The police dash cam video shows the Indigenous chief being tackled to the ground by a police officer, punched in the head and put in a choke hold.
His face is bleeding as he’s led in handcuffs to the police cruiser.
The video, published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday evening, horrified many Canadians, and is likely to add more fire to a simmering debate about systemic racism in police forces across Canada.
Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in northern Alberta, was questioned by the police about an expired license plate. He ended up charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, according to the CBC. The video was presented as an exhibit in his court case.
“How can this amount of force be reasonable given there was no threat to the public or police?” tweeted Cindy Blackstock, a professor of social work at McGill University, who is director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
“Another example of why First Nations are the most likely group to experience violence and deaths in relation to police,” she wrote.
Rachel Notley, former premier of Alberta, also took to Twitter to sound the alarm: “This is hard to watch but it is important. We cannot ignore that systemic racism persists in Alberta and around the world.”
Protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in the United States continue across the globe, and are also sparking a renewed national reckoning in Canada.
Canadian Indigenous leaders have long been clamoring for reform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the national force that also provides local policing in many provinces. There are many cases alleging the police used disproportionate force against Indigenous people, as well as accusations of discrimination and indifference.
Accusations of mistreatment of Indigenous people by the police have again come under the national spotlight in recent weeks.
At a news conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said systemic racism was a problem in Canada.
“Systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all of our institutions, including in all of our police forces, including in the RCMP,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Recognizing that is difficult and we need to make sure that we are moving forward in really meaningful ways and that is also going to be difficult.”
The video involving Chief Adam was taken early in the morning in March, after he and family members had left a casino.
At a news conference last weekend, Chief Adam said that the police officer approached their pickup truck about an expired tag on the license plate, and that he got agitated after the officer tried to “manhandle” his wife into arrest.
The video shows him jumping out of the truck shouting, “Leave my wife alone.”
After the officer seems to de-escalate the situation, and the truck is about to move, the officer returns to the driver window and Chief Adam emerges again. That’s when the officer tries to handcuff him and another officer rushes into the scene and tackles Mr. Adam.
Initially, the Alberta police called the officer’s actions “reasonable” and said they were required because Mr. Adam was “resisting arrest,” according to The Globe and Mail, quoting the police’s public relations manager.
But after Chief Adam released bystander videos taken of the arrest last Saturday, the independent Alberta agency that investigates the police after incidents involving death or potential misconduct, announced it was looking into the case.
“We need an overhaul of our justice system in regard to how it treats minority people,” Chief Adam told the Globe and Mail.
Mr. Trudeau has made addressing the country’s troubled colonial past a priority, and promised a national reckoning about its treatment of Indigenous people.
In 2017, he told the United Nations General Assembly that he was committed to righting historical wrongs.
“For First Nations, Métis Nation and Inuit peoples in Canada, those early colonial relationships were not about strength through diversity, or a celebration of differences,” he said. “For Indigenous peoples in Canada, the experience was mostly one of humiliation, neglect and abuse.”