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Indigenous B.C. man alleges racial profiling and RCMP violence in mistaken arrest

·5 min read
Chief Julian Shackelly of the Nlaka'pamux Nation is pictured outside his home in Maple Ridge, B.C., on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Chief Julian Shackelly of the Nlaka'pamux Nation is pictured outside his home in Maple Ridge, B.C., on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

RCMP officers in Coquitlam, B.C., are facing allegations of brutality during the mistaken arrest of a Nlaka'pamux man at an afternoon art show.

Chief Julian Shackelly has filed suit in B.C. Supreme Court alleging he suffered multiple injuries and long-lasting psychological damage in the arrest on Aug. 5, 2018 during an open house at Minnekhada Lodge.

His notice of claim says Mounties were responding to calls about a mentally disturbed person who was refusing to leave the building. It alleges that police pulled their guns on Shackelly and then pinned him to the ground, bashing his knee and hurting his back, ribs, face and hands.

"It really felt like I was racially profiled," Shackelly, a 51-year-old with long, black hair, told CBC News.

He said he was the only Indigenous person at the scene. The suspect was white.

Shackelly said he was scared he was going to die during the arrest, and the incident has left him with post-traumatic stress disorder .

"It gets me very angry and upset, and it affects my family life. I'm not a very pleasant person to be around because of these issues," Shackelly said.

Police do not deny arresting Shackelly and taking him to the ground. They acknowledge he was not the suspect they were looking for and say he received an apology from a supervising officer.

But in a response to Shackelly's claim filed earlier this month, the Crown denies the use of excessive force and says no one pointed their guns at Shackelly. The response alleges officers didn't have a description of the suspect, and that Shackelly was resisting arrest.

Coquitlam RCMP have declined to comment about the case. None of the allegations in either Shackelly's claim or the Crown's response have been proven in court.

'They were just yelling and screaming'

Many of the details about what happened that day can be pieced together from Shackelly's notice of claim and the Crown's response.

CBC has also spoken with Maryam Rahnama, a spokesperson for Shackelly's non-profit arts organization, who says she witnessed the entire incident.

On the afternoon of Aug. 5, 2018, Minnekhada Lodge hosted an open house featuring the work of local artists.

At some point in the day, the lodge's caretaker called police about a man who had flooded the upper floor of the heritage house and was threatening to kill people, according to the Crown's response.

The building was evacuated, but Shackelly said he hesitated to leave because he was worried about the man's safety when police arrived.

"I wanted to be there and be a witness," he said.

GP Mendoza/CBC
GP Mendoza/CBC

Officers found Shackelly standing at the entrance, according to the Crown's response.

Shackelly's claim alleges that, "immediately upon their arrival, officers pointed their guns at the plaintiff and then pushed the plaintiff to the ground, sitting on his back."

Both Shackelly and Rahnama say he had his hands up before the arrest and told the officers he wasn't the person they were looking for. His claim denies he did anything to resist the arrest.

"They were just yelling and screaming, telling me to get down, and they didn't even give me a chance to respond," Shackelly said.

Rahnama said the scene reminded her of something out of an action movie.

"I kept saying, this is our chief. The guy you're looking for is inside," she said.

Crown says Shackelly 'resisted the arrest'

The RCMP version of events differs on some key details, and denies that guns were drawn.

"Mr. Shackelly refused to comply with police commands and resisted the arrest," the Crown response says.

It goes on to say that the officer "escorted Mr. Shackelly to the ground on his stomach by kneeling and pulling on the handcuffs to pull Mr. Shackelly down to the ground."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Shackelly said he was tackled to the ground with such force that one knee of his jeans was torn. The Crown's response confirms that Shackelly later showed the officers a hole on his left knee.

The response says it was only after an unnamed woman — possibly Rahnama — told them they had the wrong person and pointed to the real suspect that the officers let Shackelly go.

Both police and Shackelly agree the white suspect was arrested without force. The Crown's response says that's because he complied with all the officer's commands.

The arresting officer allegedly apologized and told Shackelly "that he and other officers at the scene were given little information about the suspect and had arrested him based on the information available to them at the time of the arrest."

An emailed question to the caretaker about the original police call was referred to the communications department at Metro Vancouver, which operates the lodge. A spokesperson for the regional district said questions about the incident would be more appropriately handled by the RCMP, who have declined to comment.

'I want these attacks to stop'

Rahnama said the incident has left her shaken.

"I'm so stressed over this. I can't believe this is happening, and I'd like to raise my voice and tell people," she said.

As for Shackelly, he said he's tired of hearing stories like this. He pointed to the Alberta case of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, whose violent arrest in 2020 was caught on dash cam video.

"I want these attacks to stop, to be over, to be finished — no more racial profiling," he said.

A date has yet to be set for the case to be heard in court. Shackelly has also filed complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, emails shared with CBC show.

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