The video released yesterday was difficult to watch, and I recognize that many people are troubled about what occurred in the cell area of the Thompson Detachment.
Let me be clear that the safety and security of everyone who is taken into custody is of paramount importance, and the use of force or acts of violence within our cell area by any individual is concerning.
I want to walk you through what I know about the arrest, the incident itself and the steps we will be taking.
To summarize, this incident occurred on January 6, 2018, when two Community Safety Officers (CSOs) from the City of Thompson arrested Ms. Garson under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act and took her to the Thompson RCMP Detachment. The CSOs are hired by, and are employees of, the City of Thompson.
Upon arrival at the detachment, the CSOs were assisted by an RCMP officer.
As part of the search for safety purposes, Ms. Garson was asked to remove her belt. Upon doing so, she is seen in the video to have used the belt to strike a CSO. The CSO then struck Ms. Garson.
An ambulance was called to conduct an assessment.
For me, there are multiple issues that need to be addressed.
The first issue is the force used by the Community Safety Officer.
Even though it was not an RCMP officer who struck Ms. Garson, we need to ensure the safety and security of everyone placed in our cells, and I take that responsibility very seriously. This morning, I have asked that an assessment be completed on all the training provided to the City of Thompson CSOs who have access to our cells and whether it requires updating. As an organization, we need to ensure that any peace officer who has access to our cells has the appropriate training, particularly as it pertains to use of force.
When this incident occurred, the RCMP conducted a review, and no charges were ultimately laid against the CSO in the video. I have asked for a further assessment of the situation to determine if there is anything the RCMP could have done better that day, and the days following the incident.
The second issue that needs to be addressed is the 27,000 arrests under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act across northern Manitoba that year. The RCMP recognizes that this number is very high. So what are the reasons for that?
There is a fundamental lack of resources across northern Manitoba to house people who simply need a safe place to sleep for the night. Often, the communities for which we provide policing services do not have sobering centres or adequate shelter spaces. Even if there are shelters with available beds, they often will not take individuals who are intoxicated and/or causing a disturbance. We all know a detachment cell block is not the best place to house someone who is intoxicated; however, sometimes there is little other choice.
With the weather in Thompson and across northern Manitoba, driving by someone and not getting them to shelter can lead to death. This is not an exaggeration. Last winter alone, the RCMP in Manitoba responded to five deaths due to exposure. We also know that people who are intoxicated are more likely to become victims of crime.
I can assure you that our senior officers are working with the Province and partners across sectors to find solutions that do not involve arresting individuals and placing them in our cells. I am very pleased with the Province's recent announcement to fund a sobering centre in Thompson. It is initiatives like these that will give us valuable alternatives to incarceration.
We will also continue our work with Indigenous leadership to learn from them, to listen and to continue our journey of reconciliation. These types of events can set us back, but we are determined to keep our promise of a professional, responsive and compassionate police force.
Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy
Commanding Officer of the Manitoba RCMP