RCMP Pepper Spray Native Children
By Aaron Mercredi
It was supposed to be a celebration for two victorious sports teams returning from a tournament in Vancouver. But, the grand entrance of the Sechelt’s First Nations soccer teams on to their reservation on the Sunshine Coast, which has become a community tradition, was interrupted by RCMP violence and pepper spray.
Fourteen people were hospitalized after police unloaded cans of pepper spray on the procession of 20 vehicles that were involved in the celebration. The coach, the players and the families were all targeted in this attack, but most disturbing was the fact that many of those sprayed were children, including a 6-month-old baby who suffered burns to his face and scalp.
Footage of the attack made it on to news channels across Canada. Immediately after this incident took place, the RCMP issued statements saying they were only trying to stop a pick-up truck that was honking its horn and carrying young people around and that the pepper spray was used when the driver resisted arrest. Interesting that this then led to a full-onslaught of pepper spray against a whole crowd of people.
Native People Respond
Within days of the brutal attack, posters started appearing on telephone poles around Vancouver announcing a rally against RCMP brutality. Organized by the Indigenous Action Movement, this emergency gathering brought out over 100 people to Canada Place in Downtown Vancouver to protest the abuse inflicted on the Sechelt community members by the RCMP. After opening the rally with songs and a prayer, speakers from the Indigenous community in Vancouver sent words of support to the Sechelt community and related this recent attack to the other cases of systemic abuse against Native people by Canada’s enforcement agents.
When members of the Sechelt community found out about the rally, they made their way over to Vancouver to take part in it. Family members spoke about their experience and the anger that is rising in their community, especially because their young children were targeted with the pepper spray.
The day was a strong show of support and solidarity for the people in Sechelt, letting them know that they were not alone and that people will mobilize when a community is under attack.
The situation grows…
Within the week, the Sechelt community was once again responding to the moves by the RCMP. About 50 band members barricaded the band offices in an attempt to force the resignation of their Chief after he accepted an apology from the Sechelt RCMP for the pepper-spraying incident and also accepted an internal investigation in to the matter. The frustration and anger felt by members of the community has brought them not to accept these small token gestures by the RCMP and its weak attempts to save face. You don’t have to look to far to see that this apology doesn’t count for anything, and that an internal investigation is just the police investigating themselves, which leads to nothing. Do Canada’s police forces have a history of being accountable for their misconduct, abuse, and even murder of Indigenous people? From Dudley George, an unarmed Indigenous activist who died from a gunshot wound from an Ontario Police Officer’s semi-automatic rifle, to Neil Stonechild, who froze to death on a cold winter night on the outskirts of Saskatoon after being beaten, stripped of his warm clothes and left out in the cold, the abuse at the hands of Canada’s enforcement agents has not just shown out of the blue. It is systemic and well established in this country. These are only two other examples of the countless cases of police misconduct against Native people. There are also cases where the police have investigated themselves, either found nothing wrong or held some minor disciplinary action and then moved on, case closed.
The fundamental problem is that government of Canada and the RCMP are trying to maintain their control over Native communities in the same way they did back in the day when there was the pass system and Native peoples’ movements were restricted by white Indian agents. Yes, time has passed and gains have been won, but the incident in Sechelt shows the extremes that the RCMP will still go to in order to assert their arbitrary power over Native people. This needs to be reversed and the police must be held fully responsible for their heartless attack against a peaceful Native celebration.
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