This article was first published by APTN News Canada. It has been republished with permission.
A Dene man wants answers from Yellowknife RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) after an assault he says he endured at the hands of a Mountie that left him battered and bruised.
Benjamin Manuel said he was walking home from work at 6:30 p.m. on June 10 with his girlfriend and uncle when an RCMP officer approached him from a truck.
“RCMP stopped us behind Kim’s Convenience store in the back lane and asked my partner what was going on,” said Manuel. “All of the sudden RCMP tell me, ‘Jump in the back of the truck, you are coming with us.’”
In an interview with APTN News, Manuel said he didn’t think RCMP would do anything more than talk with him.
“I never did anything wrong, I was just walking home sober,” he said.
What Manuel claims happened next resulted in two black eyes, a busted-up lip and broken nose.
He said he was driven a short distance but couldn’t remember where he was taken.
“All I remember was getting pulled out of the truck, being handcuffed, kicked in the face. You can still see the footprints on my face,” he said.
Manuel said there were three police officers present at the time of the assault.
“They un-handcuffed me and left me on the road unconscious. They didn’t even call ambulance or nothing,” he said.
Dorothy May Betsaka, Manuel’s girlfriend, confirmed the RCMP stopped them and put Manuel in the back of their truck and that she left the scene when he was driven away by RCMP.
She said when she didn’t hear from him after half an hour, she began to worry and returned to the alley.
“I just thought they [RCMP] would take him and talk. They ended up handcuffing him for no reason. We found him again and he was laying outside of Kim’s convenience store bleeding,” Betsaka said.
Manuel claims he sustained injuries to his head when he was pulled to the ground and kicked.
Betsaka took him to Stanton Territorial Hospital.
“I didn’t want him to fall asleep. We waited there for three hours. I said to the staff, ‘This is three hours, how come you can’t see him? He is bleeding.’ The security guard told me they would phone RCMP and take my phone away from me, so we left,” she said.
A phone video recorded by Betsaka and reviewed by APTN shows an agitated Manuel trying to get help from hospital staff, and turning his frustration on a security guard.
Manuel says this was not the first time he has been harassed by police since moving to Yellowknife, where he had to attend court.
Manuel was arrested in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, in the spring of 2019 and a trial was set for the fall.
When his legal team reconvened in Yellowknife, Manuel was found not guilty of charges of “assaulting a police officer” but guilty of “resisting a police officer.”
“They only point fingers at people with a record. I went through so much interrogation. At the bus shelter I’ve been stopped and asked, ‘What are you doing here?’” Manuel said.
Manuel works for Common Ground, a homelessness employment program where he landscapes, cleans, and completes contract work under the direction of the Yellowknife Women’s Society.
Michael Fatt, supervisor of the program, confirmed to APTN he spoke with Manuel following the incident and wanted to make it known that Manuel had just come from work and was “sober as a judge.”
Fatt said he often sees racism from police whom he believes arrest homeless individuals under suspicion they have been drinking, often times when they have not.
Manuel has been living in a tent since March, waiting on social housing. He says it is harder to avoid police interaction without a permanent roof over his head.
Fatt and advocates for Yellowknife’s vulnerable population took their concerns to RCMP on June 12 outside of the detachment ahead of a scheduled press conference unrelated to the Manuel’s alleged incident, but over media inquiries about an anti-racism demonstration held earlier in the week.
“I’m really disappointed after speaking with RCMP. Let’s think about this, let’s bring this out in the open let’s not just keep it behind closed doors. This is real, constant. Whether it was an interrogation or whether it was an investigation that’s yet to be determined,” Fatt said.
“They think that they have every right to grab you and throw you in the drunk tank and at the same time beat you up a little bit. I’m not saying it happens every time or with every officer but it does happen and it doesn’t slip through the crack, it’s exposed,” he said.
At the press conference, APTN asked about Manuel’s allegations.
“I do know that the Yellowknife detachment has reached out to this gentleman so I will let that investigation be gathered, obviously appreciative that it’s been brought to our attention and we will do a follow-up,” Jamie Zettler, chief superintendent and commanding officer, told media.
When asked if Zettler saw racism or racial bias in the N.W.T. RCMP, he said that if racism exists in Canada, then it exists in the RCMP, but he would not give an example of how the RCMP in the north may show prejudice in their actions.
“There are individual communities feel like they are not treated fairly. Obviously, their experiences are different and what not than my own,” he said.
“But again, but from my position, I haven’t lived those experiences.”
APTN also questioned Zettler about a specific constable that Manuel claimed was involved in the alleged June 10 attack.
RCMP would not confirm those allegations and when APTN asked if the constable in question did, in fact, work for the RCMP in Yellowknife, Zettler promptly ended the press conference.
By Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs