Indigenous group offers recommendations to Hamilton police after alleged assault by officer

The Hamilton Regional Indian Centre (HRIC) is making recommendations to the Hamilton Police Service (HPS) to help address the “harm done by law enforcement agencies” against Indigenous peoples, after an officer allegedly assaulted an Indigenous man during an arrest. 

“This needs to stop. Education, prevention and accountability must be of the highest priority of law enforcement,” HRIC executive director Audrey Davis told reporters Tuesday during a press conference, where she listed multiple recommendations.

Police say on May 26, officers were investigating a stolen vehicle at a gas station on the Mountain. The investigation led to the arrest that day of Patrick Tomchuk. 

The arrest was captured on video by a citizen and a nearby business and led Hamilton police to suspend Const. Brian Wren. Tomchuk, meanwhile, was charged with numerous theft-related offences related to the stolen vehicle investigation and one count of assault – resist arrest, according to his lawyer. The video has not been shared publicly or with CBC.

Tomchuk initially reported injuries sustained during the arrest and police say they contacted the Special Investigations Unit, but the watchdog didn’t investigate because they found the injuries weren’t severe enough.

Olga Tomchuk said she wants justice for her son Patrick. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

It prompted Hamilton police to do its own criminal investigation and eventually charge Wren with assault on June 16.

Olga Tomchuk, Patrick’s mom, said Tuesday she wants justice.

“I just want to have it where this police officer doesn’t do it anymore,” she told reporters.

Tomchuk’s lawyer previously said an HPS officer has assaulted him at least once before.

HPS Chief Frank Bergen said the service is reviewing its files but so far haven’t found any documented cases of that happening.

Police chief says he welcomes discussion

Davis listed numerous recommendations including:

  • A third-party investigation into the alleged assault.
  • The consideration of charging Wren with a hate crime.
  • The investigation of any past incidents of police violence toward Tomchuk.
  • The creation of an HPS Indigenous community liaison role.
  • An Indigenous-specific seat within the HPS board.
  • Bolstering Indigenous training for HPS.
  • An interim community hate crime review circle without an HPS staff member present.
  • An Indigenous advisory or consultant position for HPS.
  • Body cameras and dashboard cameras for all officers and police cruisers.
  • A committee that works toward implementing calls to action from Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Davis said rather than defunding the police service or disbanding it, there should be an opportunity for Indigenous voices to come to the table. She also said that the recommendations are not prompted solely by the incident between Tomchuk and Wren, but by what she said is a “long history of violence between colonial law enforcement agencies against Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

This “was an incident that finally got attention because of the charges, because of the video. There are many other incidences we could speak of,” she said, adding that this particular incident was one that showed an officer crossing a line. 

“I clearly understand that sometimes police do have to use a little more force when people are resistant. But when it comes to excessive use when there are bodily injuries that are serious, that is excessive… The brutality is beyond what is needed to take this person into custody,” she said. 

A man standing
Hamilton police chief Frank Bergen called the video of the alleged assault “disturbing.” (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Bergen also spoke to reporters after Davis and others left the area.

He called the video “disturbing” and said he wants to speak with Indigenous leaders. He already contacted them after the incident initially happened and is planning a meeting with them.

“The community wants actions and not just words,” Bergen said on Tuesday, adding he invites the broader community to offer feedback to the service.

“When we can do things better, it’s better to sit at a table to discuss it, to find a path together.”

He said Tomchuk didn’t speak to police at the time of the incident, which is a barrier for police to consider the potential of a hate crime charge. He said if an officer committed a hate crime, HPS would follow up accordingly.

Bergen added he’s been working toward bringing in an Indigenous liaison officer for the last year. As for changes to the police board, Bergen said the province would have to make that change.

As a member of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, police board chair Pat Mandy is Indigenous, but Davis said that’s not the same as an Indigenous-specific board member.

Bergen also said implementing dashboard cameras in police cars is already in the works through a grant, which should be ready by 2023.

He said the board would need to review how implementing body cameras would affect the service’s budget and there’s no pilot happening right now.

Tomchuk’s bail hearing is set for Wednesday and Wren’s next court date is set for Aug. 18.

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