In the Northern Ontario city of Sioux Lookout, at 5:42 p.m. on Tuesday, an officer with the Ontario Provincial Police tried to arrest a drunk 16-year-old, who resisted, according to a police press release. The teen was charged with three counts of assault and held in custody.
What the OPP release didn’t mention, however, was the existence of a video posted to social media the night before that seemed to show another side of the confrontation.
In a nearly five-minute clip that has been viewed tens of thousands of times, the officer can be seen pushing an Indigenous girl to the ground, where she appears to lie unconscious. He and another officer then drag her limp body into the back of a police cruiser.
On Wednesday, the girl, who can’t be identified because she is a minor charged with a crime, had two large gashes on her face and a purple lump over her left eye.
Standing outside the emergency room of the local hospital, where her mother brought her to be checked out, she said she felt “sore” and said her head was pounding. She spoke of emotional wounds, too.
“I feel kind of scared because of what happened,” she said. “He shouldn’t treat someone like that, I guess.”
For some here, the video has crystallized a loss of trust between Indigenous people and the police, in a region that has received national attention for the same problem.
“I wish when I looked at it I thought, ‘How could this be? How could this happen in my town?’ ” said Sylvia Davis, a teacher at Pelican Falls First Nations High School in Sioux Lookout, and a member of the nearby Lac Seul First Nation. “But I can’t be like that, because I know this goes on here.”
On Wednesday, the girl’s mother, who also cannot be identified, spoke through tears as she described her anger and sadness at what had happened to her daughter, and said she would be pursuing legal action against the provincial police force. “I’m hurting still. I’m mad … I still haven’t slept,” she said. “I’m not going to let this go.”
OPP spokesperson Mike Golding declined to comment on the officer’s conduct during the girl’s arrest and cautioned against rushing to judgment based on the footage. “The video only shows a small part of the interaction,” he said by e-mail. “We can’t comment on the officer’s actions if we don’t know what transpired moments before.”
In the video, taken by Lakehead University nursing student Akeesha Footman, the officer can be heard saying that the girl was “spitting and kicking” him. “I would also appreciate it … when I’m in distress, when I’m getting assaulted, that somebody help me, too, right?" he tells Ms. Footman and her mother, who also witnessed the incident.
The girl was released after a bail hearing in Dryden, Ont., Wednesday morning. She faces one count of assault with intent to resist arrest, one count of assaulting a peace officer and one count of simple assault. She faces a fourth charge of failing to comply with a previous court order.
But after seeing the video of her daughter’s arrest, the girl’s mother is left wondering why her daughter is the one being charged with assault.
“I want to know why he handled my daughter with that much power,” she said. “They were too rough. Way too rough.”
The mother described a harrowing day on Tuesday, as she realized her daughter had taken money out of the bank. Around 4 p.m. she said she left work early and went looking for the girl. When she found her intoxicated on the streets of Sioux Lookout, the mother found a nearby OPP officer and asked him to arrest the girl so she could sober up in safety.
“I didn’t know this was going to happen,” the mother said.
Though she said the video is painful to watch, she thanked the young woman who filmed it. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t know what happened to my daughter,” she said.
Ms. Footman said she was looking for a grocery store when she saw a police officer speaking to a girl on a bench.
“He looked at us and said, ‘Can I help you?’ And he said, ‘This does not concern you, you need to leave.’ So we drove off,” she recalled. “But then I looked back and saw him hit her.”
It was around then that Ms. Footman began recording. “I was in shock at that point,” she said. “We were wondering, ‘How many times does this happen, that it’s not witnessed?’ ”
In nearby Thunder Bay, four hours south, two official reports have put a spotlight on systemic bias against Indigenous people in the local police force. Last December, Ontario’s Independent Police Review Director Gerry McNeilly found that “racist attitudes” contributed to inadequate investigations into the deaths of nine Indigenous people in the city.