The head of an organization representing 26 Northern Manitoba First Nations says a video of a Thompson community safety officer punching and knocking out a 19-year-old woman from Tataskweyak Cree Nation in 2018 is “appalling” and that it took so long to come to light is evidence that actions lag behind words when it comes to reconciliation.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee told the Thompson Citizen that the way Genesta Garson was treated in the Thompson RCMP detachment after being detained on suspicion of public intoxication robbed her of her dignity and that the failure of the RCMP or the city to make the matter public until CBC obtained the video of the incident through the courts victimized her further.
“This woman was humiliated and she was dehumanized because of the way they handled the situation,” Settee said.
Garson is suing the City of Thompson, the RCMP, the Attorney General of Canada, community safety officers Garrett Allen and Thomas Warkentin as well as RCMP Const. Jenelle Hulan, over the incident, which her lawsuit alleges was partly due to discrimination. The Intoxicated Persons Detention Act (IPDA), which allows police and other designated officers to detain people without formally arresting them if they believe that they are intoxicated, is used predominantly against Indigenous people in Thompson.
Although it occurred in January 2018, the incident did not come to public attention until CBC obtained the surveillance video from the RCMP detachment through a court application.
Garson was removing clothing items while supervised by the male community safety officers and a female RCMP officer in the processing area of the cell block when she appeared to strike one of the safety officers with her belt. The officer then punched Garson and her head hit the wall and she fell to the floor unconscious. Her pants were then removed by the RCMP officer and she was dragged by her arms into one of the holding cells. She was again pushed to the floor when she tried to leave the holding cell before the exiting officers closed the door behind them. Garson remained in the cell for 15 minutes until paramedics arrived and transported her on a stretcher to Thompson General Hospital for treatment. Hospital records from that visit show that Garson had a cut on her lip, bruising on her chin and the side of her head and that she had lost consciousness for about 10 seconds.
Although the RCMP said a review of the incident did not lead to criminal charges, Settee said he felt they were warranted.
“If it happened in any other environment, charges would be laid,” the grand chief said. “I think there should be consequences for such acts of violence regardless of who does it.”
He also said that the City of Thompson and the RCMP should apologize to Garson and her family and make it clear that such actions won’t be tolerated.
“Both the RCMP and the City of Thompson have to assert their outrage and condemn this act and they should make sure that justice is served,” said Settee, who has a meeting with the City of Thompson to discuss the incident planned for Nov. 17.
The lack of transparency surrounding the incident, which occurred before Thompson’s current mayor, council and city manager or the current commanding officer of the Thompson RCMP detachment were in their positions, concerns Settee. The city said in a press release Nov. 10 that it didn’t learn of the incident until informed by Manitoba Justice seven months after the fact while the Manitoba RCMP commanding officer said the same day that the force would look into officers’ actions on the day of the incident and afterwards to determine what could have been done better.
“People knew that it happened within positions of authority but they failed to notify our organization and that is appalling because our organization has tried to work with the city,” said Settee. “It’s tried to work in the spirit of reconciliation and then also working together on the Thompson Urban Aboriginal Strategy. If this path to reconciliation is to continue there have to be some things that need to be done in order to restore this reconciliation. The lines of communication have to be strong.”
Manitoba NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine told CBC that the minister of justice should use his powers under the Police Services Act to order an investigation.
“I want the justice minister to assign an independent policing institution like the WPS (Winnipeg Police Service) … to do an investigation first and foremost,” she said.
CBC said Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen refused to do an interview about what happened to Garson because he can’t comment on specific cases or matters before the courts. He also declined to respond to Fontaine’s request for him to order an investigation.