The head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said today the service will review its officers’ use of a controversial neck hold restraint —a promise that comes as mass protests against police brutality continue across North America in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
But RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki also said there are times when police officers use force and people get hurt.
The “carotid control hold” is the act of compressing the arteries on either side of a person’s neck. Used correctly, it causes the person being restrained to slip into unconsciousness — but it can also lead to injury or death.
“We’ll definitely review it,” said Lucki in an interview with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton.
Lucki said the carotid control hold — also known as the “sleeper hold” or “blood choke” — is at the far end of the continuum of police use of force, on par with using a firearm.
“It’s when something serious or death or bodily harm is going to happen,” she said.
The carotid restraint differs from the restraint used by the Minneapolis police officer in the encounter that ended with Floyd’s death — that officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. His death has sparked international protests and has caused more than a dozen law enforcement agencies in California alone to announce in recent days that they would bar officers from using carotid neck restraints.
“Any time there is any review of any kind of intervention or any police technique, we’re always looking at what happened with that review and how it can be applied to the RCMP context,” said Lucki.
The RCMP moved to ban the chokehold, which restricts airflow, back in 1979 due to the danger involved.
Allegations of racism
The review comes amid broader calls for a cultural shakeup within the RCMP after a series of headline-grabbing allegations that called into question both Mounties’ use of force and how they police Indigenous people.
Over the weekend, Chief Allan Adam of the Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta alleged that he was beaten by RCMP officers and his wife was manhandled back in March when police stopped him for an expired licence plate in Fort McMurray. That arrest is now under review.
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“Nobody likes to see pictures like that,” said Lucki. “There is always a set of circumstances and, depending on the circumstances and the level of resistance, sometimes there are intervention actions that need to be taken.
“Obviously, we never want to see anybody get hurt when we’re dealing with anybody in any an incident, but it does happen.”
Just a few days earlier, a video appearing to show an RCMP officer in Nunavut using his truck’s door to knock a man over before arresting him was shared nationwide.
“From the outside looking in, I have to be honest, it does not look like a reasonable response,” Lucki said.
“We’ve asked the Ottawa Police Service to come in and to investigate that particular incident and and to see what exactly happened in that case.”
Responding to Chief Adam’s allegation, the RCMP’s top officer in Alberta denied the existence of systemic racism in Canadian policing.
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“I don’t believe that racism is systemic through Canadian policing, I don’t believe it’s systemic through policing in Alberta,” Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki told a news conference in Edmonton on Monday. His statement triggered widespread criticism.
Lucki has since spoken to Zablocki and said he misinterpreted the term “systemic racism”.
“His intention was to simply say that, you know, if there is racism, he didn’t believe it in his thoughts that it was rampant across the organization,” she said.
When asked if there is systemic racism in policing in Canada, Lucki said she believes there is “unconscious bias.”
“That is an interesting question because in the last couple of days I have honestly heard about 15 or 20 definitions of systemic racism,” she said.
“If it refers to an unconscious bias that exists … we definitely have that in the RCMP and we are not immune to it at all. There are times when our members don’t act in accordance with our core values, which includes racism, and it’s those times that we have to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”