The mother of a 17-year-old Inuk-Dene girl says an altercation with Yukon RCMP left her hospitalized and in need of surgery.
“It’s heartbreaking. As a parent, you put trust in public servants and you trust them with your livelihood, with your children, and I feel like it’s failed,” said Briann Gagnon, the girl’s mother.
APTN News is not identifying the girl because she is a minor.
Gagnon told APTN that her daughters’ injuries stem from an incident that took place on April 8.
According to Gagnon, her daughter was drinking with a group of friends in downtown Whitehorse when two RCMP officers arrived.
The girls’ friends fled, leaving her there alone and heavily intoxicated.
Gagnon’s daughter doesn’t recall what happened due to her intoxication. Gagnon said officers told her that they tried to arrest the girl and have her sober up in a cell.
According to Gagnon, her daughter sustained a dislocated knee cap, torn ACL and torn tendons and muscles around her knee cap during the arrest. Gagnon said some of the injuries will require surgery.
While Gagnon doesn’t condone her daughter’s drinking, she questions the amount of force that was used in the arrest. She said the Whitehorse detachment confirmed with her that her daughter didn’t have a weapon, nor did she attempt to assault an officer.
“The line should have been pretty low for aggression and detaining her,’ Gagnon said she told the Mounties. “They (RCMP) use whatever force necessary to detain somebody,” Gagnon was told.
“That’s a little extreme considering that my 17-year-old child had to be put in the hospital and get surgery. That’s not normal. That’s not, I think, within the policies and regulations of somebody being arrested or even put into custody. It’s pretty shocking.”
Yukon RCMP said in a statement to APTN that they are reviewing the matter “at the highest level.”
“Given the seriousness of the matter, it would be premature to comment further at this time,” the statement said.
Gagnon said her daughter was never charged for the incident and was taken to hospital afterwards for her injuries.
She said her family was not contacted until her daughter was discharged from hospital 12 hours after the incident took place.
She claims the RCMP also attempted to initially contact the girl’s father who has a no contact order in place.
Gagnon said the RCMP have been largely dismissive about the incident, even calling it an “accident.”
“This is not an accident, regardless of the situation and what she endured with her injuries. That was an accident to get your knee dislocated?”
Gagnon wants an internal investigation. She said the detachment instructed her to make an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request in order to view any surveillance footage of the incident.
Gagnon said her family is now working to retrieve that footage and has stopped communicating with the RCMP for the time being. She said her daughter is now focused on healing and moving on from the situation and her family is helping her access supports.
Advocacy group concerned
The incident is a source of concern for Sue Brown, director of advocacy and staff lawyer for Justice for Girls, a Vancouver-based equality organization for teen girls.
While Brown could not comment specifically on the RCMP’s use of force, she said injuries of Gagnon’s daughter’s nature are rare during arrests, especially when involving a teenager.
“That requires a very serious second look,” she said. “It is my sincere hope that the RCMP is looking very closely at the facts here…this is not an outcome that we want to see from our policing services anywhere.”
Brown said her organization’s statistics indicate Indigenous girls are the most over criminalized and overpoliced demographic in Canada, as well as the only population where incarceration rates are rising.
She noted police responses to girls, especially Indigenous girls, have been shown to be disproportionately harsh for issues like drinking in public or drug use.
Brown said these girls are often criminalized for behaviors that others are not typically not.
“The law dictates that girls and children should not be taken into police custody, for any reason, unless it’s an absolute last resort, and that they should not be incarcerated wherever possible, particularly in police holding cells,” she said.
“So I’m quite concerned about the fact that the RCMP arrested this young woman in the first place. That really shouldn’t have happened. That is not the type of offense that should ever land a child in a place of incarceration for any reason.”
Brown said there are also questions surrounding the fact the girl’s mother and her family weren’t contacted until several hours after the incident happened.
“Our law is quite clear when it comes to the arrest of children that their guardians need to be made aware,” she said.
Gagnon said in a time of reconciliation and acknowledgment of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the incident “is a shame.”
“Everyone’s worked so hard for so long to get to a good place, and then it takes something like this to tear it all down,” she said.
Gagnon would ultimately like to see the RCMP acknowledge the situation and apologize to her daughter.
“We felt like we didn’t matter, that she didn’t matter, (it feels like) it’s condoned the injuries that she got.”
“To have it happen to somebody you love and your child, it’s unbelievable.”