Although I am an Aboriginal person as defined under Section 35 of the Constitution - I am Metis - my fair skin has never made me the target of racial slings and arrows. And, despite covering stories for the past four years about oppression by and systemic racism within the institutions of Canada toward Aboriginal people, I still had some faith these institutions did at least try to deal with us in a fair and just way.
Then I observed how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reacted to a racial confrontation between First Nations youth and the non-native residents of Sun Peaks, British Columbia. I experienced the police's heavy-handed infringement of my rights as a citizen and journalist. There is no longer a question in my mind that these institutions aren't fair, and that they serve mostly to protect the interests of non-native people, to the detriment of native people.
On Sunday June 24, heated words lead to a scuffle between First Nations youth and a few non-Aboriginal men drinking at an outdoor patio near the Sun Peaks resort.
Earlier, the youth had been demonstrating against the resort's multi-million dollar expansion - Sun Peaks sits in the middle of land claimed by the Neskonlith Indians. I was covering the protest for Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). Believing the demonstration had ended, I was at my vehicle, putting my television camera into the trunk, when the scuffle broke out. Loud yelling caused me to grab the camera and run back. By then, an older non-native man was lying on the ground bleeding from his head and a native youth had a bloodied mouth. I was too late to see who hit whom. I packed up and left.
RCMP Constable Daryl Schimpf - apparently under the guise that he felt physically threatened by the youth - proceeded to follow me out of Sun Peaks resort instead of staying to investigate the assault that had just occurred.
Schimpf followed me for about seven or eight kilometres before pulling me over. He asked for the tapes. I asked why, and he said for possible criminal evidence. I refused. He had my car seized until a justice of the peace could be found to issue a search warrant. The tapes were then confiscated and used to identify native youth for arrest.
The tapes were not used to investigate the assault - after all, there were two sides involved in the confrontation. What really disturbs me is that they helped police lay the frivolous charges of mischief and obstruction of justice in an attempt to get the youth to leave the area permanently. The months-long protest over land use around Sun Peaks has apparently hurt tourism. Authorities are undoubtedly being pressured to end the stand-off.
The role of the media isn't to be used as an arm of the government and police. I should have the freedom to do my job. I still cannot believe how casually this police officer violated my civil rights. Was it because he thought the APTN was a cable access program broadcast out of somebody's basement? I don't believe that this seizure would have happened to the CBC or CTV. All the media and legal opinions I've heard since seem to back this sentiment.
How nice it would be if Aboriginal people would just shut up and go away, including their news-gathering organizations. And if they don't shut up, we (non-native institutions) will shut them up. I know it sounds bitter, but what other conclusion can I reach after this incident?
Todd Lamirande is the Vancouver Correspondent for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. He is also the former editor of The First Perspective, a national Aboriginal newspaper.
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