The events of Dec. 6, 2014 have been on Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach’s mind lately.
On that day an RCMP officer with the Smithers detachment had an altercation with then 61-year-old Irene Joseph, eventually taking the woman to the ground using a leg sweep manoeuvre and keeping her there for several minutes before another officer arrived.
Joseph was ultimately as successful as one suing for past damages can be, with the courts awarding her a total of $55,000 in damages and undisclosed court costs in a May 22 decision.
But while the incident is relevant for its timeliness, Bachrach said he has also been thinking back to that day as it relates to the number of demonstrations across North America following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a then-member of the Minnesota police force.
He said both these events have given him a new perspective on his own reality.
“It’s made me think about the fact that, for many members of our community, their lived experience and their interactions with people in positions of authority are very different from mine,” he said. “It reminds me that we all have a role in speaking up when we see things that aren’t right.”
Bachrach said while he didn’t witness the actual incident, instead assisting Joseph with getting to the hospital following the interaction, the court proceedings left little room for interpretation.
“It’s clear that what happened was very wrong and it, again, points to the need for change.”
Bachrach recently attended a rally in Smithers held in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the broader issue of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) facing discrimination by police forces.
He said speaking to people in the community he has heard a message: this needs to change.
“I’ve been hearing a sense of anger and frustration for a long time on these issues,” he said, adding he feels the events of the past three-and-a-half weeks have been eye-opening to many who might not have previously recognized what has been a longstanding issue for others.
Recently growing calls to “defund the police” have been seen across the continent. Broadly referring to systematic changes in police funding and the concept of diverting funding toward infrastructure that will address root causes of interactions between the public and police, such as mental health support and de-escalation specialists, Bachrach said while the words might mean slightly different things to different people, he views it as a call for changes to how police interact with the communities they work in.
“My sense is that what is being proposed is a reimagining of the role of police in our communities and the reallocation of resources accordingly so that we have more resources in our community,” he said, giving the examples of enhanced mental health and social services.
He added that while he had a personal connection to Joseph’s story, the situation is widespread enough that there were countless others with similar experiences, noting the more recent examples of Chantel Moore, who died after Edmundston, N.B. police were called in to perform a wellness check on the 26-year-old and Chief Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation who was tackled to the ground by an Alberta RCMP officer during a March 10 incident.
Bachrach said the events surrounding Moore’s death have raised a considerable number of questions.
“People find it inconceivable that a woman who isn’t well and in that situation would end up being shot,” he said. “It’s hard to understand how that happens and then seeing videos like the video [of Adam]… it’s difficult to deny that there’s a problem.”
He said he feels it’s up to community leaders to step up and acknowledge a reality which, for many, is everyday life.
“When we’re presented with these disturbing incidents and troubling statistics we can choose to deny that there’s a problem and ignore what’s going, or we can face up to it and work to change things for the better,” said Bachrach.
“I think the latter is the path we have to walk.”
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