RCMP were afraid to let officers testify at inquest of Nunavut man shot by police
Felix Taqqaugaq, 30, was shot by police 3 times at his home in Igloolik in 2012
By Nick Murray, CBC News, November 2, 2016
New details emerged into how a 30-year-old man was shot by RCMP at his own home as a coroner’s inquest got underway in Igloolik, Nunavut, Tuesday — including the fact the RCMP was afraid to let its officers testify in person.
On March 20, 2012, two RCMP officers went to the home of Felix Taqqaugaq after getting a call from someone in the community who became concerned after hearing Taqqaugaq ranting on the community’s local radio station.
Taqqaugaq had schizophrenia and was being treated for mental health issues, according to the coroner’s facts.
On the night he died, the officers met with him briefly on his porch before Taqqaugaq went inside, returned with a knife, and was shot three times.
This week’s inquest, led by Nunavut’s chief coroner Padma Suramala, will shed more light on the events surrounding his death and the subsequent investigation by the Ottawa Police Service.
On Tuesday, the coroner’s jury was selected, but it’s still not clear how exactly the process will unfold, and how exactly the officers involved will take part.
RCMP was aware of ‘anti-police tension’
Documents filed with the Nunavut Court of Justice reveal that the RCMP requested the officers be allowed to testify by video or phone due to “serious concerns” about their safety.
In an email to the coroner, lawyer Marsha Gay said the RCMP has been aware of “anti-police tension in Igloolik since Felix Taqqaugaq’s death” and she alleged officers have been subjected to a number of threats. She also highlighted the 2014 shooting of an RCMP vehicle, where one officer was severely wounded.
Gay referenced another incident where someone close to Taqqaugaq was allegedly heard making statements about killing officers. They were questioned and released, but the RCMP still had its worries.
“Of concern is that [they] and many community members are known to possess numerous firearms,” Gay wrote. “The RCMP firmly believes that the in-person attendance of [the officers involved] would put not only the physical safety of these two officers at great personal risk, but also that of the other attendees.”
Legal battle brewing
The information was revealed in an affidavit filed by the family’s lawyer, Anne Crawford, late Tuesday. Crawford has filed an application with the Nunavut Court of Justice to quash certain decisions made by Suramala before the inquest opened.
Both Crawford and the lawyer for the Government of Nunavut opposed the officers giving testimony other than in person.
They also take issue with the way Gay made her submissions.
Gay sent medical notes to Suramala’s lawyer, showing the officers shouldn’t attend the inquest in person. But Gay requested the information not be sent to the other lawyers in the case, for privacy reasons. It was also sent after the deadline to file submissions.
Eventually, Gay said the material would be available, but only if the lawyers promised to keep it private. Crawford objected, arguing the proceedings should be made in public.
Four days before the inquest was set to start, Suramala ruled that one of the two officers would be allowed to testify by video, but the other had to attend.
Ottawa Police Service chief’s standing also questioned
Crawford is also looking to quash Suramala’s decision to allow the chief of the Ottawa Police Service to have standing at the inquest.
“They have NO [sic] interest in the outcome and no participation in the event or investigation,” Crawford wrote in an email to the lawyer representing Suramala. “All this focus on police experts time [takes] focus away from the issues that are important to the family and the community.”
By the time the lawyer replied to Crawford, the request had already been approved and Crawford’s concerns never made it to Suramala.
Crawford argues that the application for standing should have been made in public.
For its part, the OPS said it anticipated questions around how the OPS provided investigative oversight into the RCMP, and around its use of force techniques, and therefore has substantial interest in the inquest.