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National RCMP watchdog investigating arrest of Alberta teen

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission is investigating the October arrest and detention of a 16-year-old from St. Albert with autism.
RCMP

The national RCMP watchdog is launching an investigation into the arrest of a St. Albert teen with autism.

On Tuesday morning, the RCMP watchdog, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) said in a release it is investigating the arrest and detention of a 16-year-old from St. Albert.

The teen was arrested by the St. Albert RCMP on Oct. 2 at the Albert Lacombe Catholic Elementary School after police received a call about an individual who was displaying erratic behaviour or was possibly impaired.

Officers arrested the boy, who is non-verbal, and he attempted to harm himself while he was in custody and when he was receiving medical care at a hospital in Edmonton.

His parents filed a missing persons report that evening when they didn’t hear from the teen and police were able to connect the boy with his family.

In the release on Tuesday, Michelaine Lahaie, Chairperson of the CRCC said the investigation will examine the RCMP’s response to the call for service and if proper supervision and accommodations were provided to the teen throughout the entire incident in light of his neurodiversity, as required under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The investigation will also examine if reasonable steps were taken to prevent the teen from self-harming while in custody or when providing medical care.

The watchdog will examine if training is provided to members on recognizing and interacting with neurodiverse people, including training on distinguishing intoxication by alcohol or drugs from disabilities and how to prevent or reduce self-harming behaviour in custody.

The incident has also sparked the CRCC to examine if the RCMP has national and divisional policies, procedures and guidelines pertaining to interactions with people with neurodiversity.

The group will make findings and recommendations to address any deficiencies in the RCMP members' conduct.

ASIRT investigation underway already

This is the second investigation launched into the incident and the the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team announced in October they were also looking into the event.

On Oct. 2, St. Albert RCMP received a 911 call at 4:24 p.m. about a male who was “exhibiting erratic behaviour” at the Albert Lacombe playground, said St. Albert RCMP Insp. Ryan Comaniuk during the initial press conference in October.

“The initial information that we had was that this individual was possibly impaired by drugs. That was the initial dispatch to the RCMP,” said Comaniuk in October.

An officer was dispatched to the playground but could not locate the teen.

At 5:30 p.m. a second call to 911 was received describing the same individual, said Comaniuk, and officers were dispatched a second time.

“Officers arrived and located the male suspect who was observed to be acting in an erratic manner,” said Comaniuk.

Comaniuk said officers were unable to determine his identity and due to concerns for his safety, he was taken into police custody at the St. Albert RCMP detachment.

While in custody, the teen began to engage in self-harm and police immediately contacted EMS. The teen was given first aid and transported to hospital at 6:45 p.m., said Comaniuk.

At 7:26 p.m. the St. Albert RCMP received a missing person report and “investigators were able to identify the missing 16-year-old male youth as the individual that had been involved in the aforementioned incident.”

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine, a media liaison officer with Alberta RCMP, also spoke during the press conference in October.

“What I can say is that this individual was taken into police custody ... he was co-operative, but wasn't able to provide information to the police in terms of his identity. In a sense, it's hard to explain, but during his time with the police, he did try to harm himself, which was concerning for the police,” she said.

At the time Comaniuk was unable to say whether it was a mental-health situation, “for respect to the individual's privacy.”

On Oct. 5, Laura Hawthorne, who identified herself as the parent of the teen, wrote a post on a St. Albert social media page. The post read:

“Wondering if anyone knows who reported my Autistic 16yr old, playing at the playground behind his grandparents’ house at the Albert Lacombe School on Sunday, to the police? He was not a man on drugs. He is a child. And was severely traumatized by the subsequent arrest and visit to JAIL, sedation, and ambulance trip to Royal Alex. You had my child kidnapped. I hope you feel good about your standards. He has NEVER hurt anyone. And has played at that park for 10 years. How dare you?”

The post had around 271 comments.

RCMP not well trained on mental health issues: expert 

Doug King, a professor of justice studies at Mount Royal University said in an interview with The Gazette in October he thinks it’s fair to say the RCMP are not well-trained in terms of being able to deal with people with “cognitive disabilities, mental health issues, and people who are in issues related to crisis.”

He said officers tend to have limited knowledge and experience dealing with people outside of what they normally encounter.

“Their response is to kind of treat them like they would treat any other person, which oftentimes turns into really counterproductive policing,” he said.

King said officers need more training, and he’s been a long advocate that recruit training is inadequate because of the short length of time it takes to become an officer, which is only six months in the initial recruit training.

“Policing is not a profession when you limit your training to six months,” he said in October.

King also thinks police could have a more working relationship with community organizations and social service agencies that offer free help to educate police officers.

“The third possibility … we're starting to see more and more of it is that when there is a call for service that may involve someone engaged in having mental health issues or cognitive impairment issues that the police don't respond alone that there are mental health professionals who respond with the police officers to the scene,” he said.



Jennifer Henderson

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Media based in St. Albert, Alta.
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