The RCMP and the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU), which investigates allegations of misconduct by on- and off-duty police in the province, are arguing in court over the release of information regarding a 2019 incident in Thompson that resulted in an assault charge against a Thompson RCMP officer.
Const. Jeremiah Dumont-Fontaine was charged in January 2020 with assault causing bodily harm in relation to the incident, which took place June 6, 2019 when he was arresting a 50-year-old man outside the Thompson Inn.
That man, identified in a CBC report as Brian Halcrow, died by suicide two days after the officer was charged, though he didn’t know that charges had been laid at the time of his death. Friends of Halcrow, who had a history of depression and had been to jail twice before, said he didn’t want to go back but feared he would because he was accused of assaulting Dumont-Fontaine.
The CBC says court documents provide three different stories of what happened the night Halcrow, a member of Tataskweyak Cree Nation, was punched twice by Dumont-Fontaine, which resulted in him needing to be taken to Thompson General Hospital for stitches.
Thompson RCMP Const. Mark Sterdan’s report said Halcrow threw a punch and Dumont-Fontaine punched him twice in response. Dumont-Fontaine, who didn’t submit to an interview with the IIU or give investigators his notes, said Halcrow threw a hat which struck him in the “facial area” at which point, “fearing further assault,” Dumont-Fontaine punched Halcrow twice. An IIU investigator said in a court document that the hat never hit Dumont-Fontaine.
The officer’s lawyer told CBC that the surveillance video of the incident is grainy and he is confident his client will be found not guilty by reason of self-defence.
The IIU is seeking to have an occurrence report written by Dumont-Fontaine as well as a report for the RCMP’s use-of-force database turned over as evidence but the RCMP says those reports are effectively an officer’s notes and that the Police Services Act (PSA) prohibits another officer from turning them over to the IIU.
Arguments will be heard in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench March 5.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said in a March 1 news release that the PSA needs changes.
“In this particular case in Thompson, the officer involved may be protected by the current provisions of the PSA that do not compel a subject officer to be interviewed by IIU investigating officers,” said Dumas. “Unless this is changed in legislation, the IIU will continue to play a part in the disproportionate rates of First Nations arrests and incarcerations and subject officers will continue to be found not responsible for acts of brutality and/or justified in the use of deadly force. It is disturbing and emotionally exhausting for First Nations in Manitoba to be continually exposed to reports and alleged incidents of the use of excessive force perpetuated on First Nations by police officers, conservation officers, and correctional officers in this province. The PSA legislation is a contributing factor and I continue urge the province and specifically Manitoba Justice to implement its recommendations, in partnership with First Nations in the spirit and intent of reconciliation and for a measure of justice for those First Nations lives lost as a result of police misconduct.”
Dumont-Fontaine’s trial on the assault charge is scheduled for January 2022.