TORONTO — The police dash cam video shows the Indigenous chief being held by one police officer and tackled to the ground by another, punched in the head and put in a chokehold.
His face is bleeding as he is led in handcuffs to the police cruiser.
The video, submitted to the courts on Thursday and broadcast by many news channels, horrified many Canadians, and added fuel to the already raging debate over systemic racism in police forces across Canada.
While allegations of police abuse against black and Indigenous Canadians have been made for decades, the gruesome death of George Floyd in the United States has caused what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called “an awakening” and spurred large anti-racism marches across the country.
Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in northern Alberta, was stopped by the police in Fort McMurray in March about an expired license plate. After a sometimes heated 12-minute exchange, he was charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. But many believe the police video shows he was the real victim.
“It is unacceptable,” Mr. Trudeau said on Friday, calling the video “shocking.”
“Everyone who has seen that video has serious questions,” Mr. Trudeau added, referring to the use of force by police. He called for an independent and transparent investigation into the episode.
Initially, the Alberta police said superiors reviewing the dash cam video had deemed the officers’ actions “reasonable” and did not warrant an external investigation.
But after Mr. Adam held a news conference last Saturday, during which he released two bystander videos taken during the arrest, the independent Alberta agency that investigates police episodes involving death or potential misconduct announced it was looking into the case.
Canadian Indigenous leaders have long advocated reform of the national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which also provides local policing in many provinces.
While most of the recent marches in Canada have focused on police brutality against black Canadians, they have also included complaints about systemic criminalization of the country’s Indigenous people who make up 5 percent of the population, and more than 30 percent of the prison inmates.
The police video involving Mr. Adam was taken early one morning in March, after he, his wife and a niece left a casino in Fort McMurry in Alberta. The police vehicle pulled up behind the truck driven by Mr. Adam’s wife.
Mr. Adam is captured on the video approaching the police car and demanding to know why the officer was watching them.
“I’m tired of being harassed by the R.C.M.P.,” he says angrily. He is told to get back in his vehicle, but remains outside, staring at the police car.
The situation escalates when a police officer moves to handcuff his wife, against the side of their truck. Mr. Adam shouts, “Leave my wife alone” and “you have no right.”
After the situation is calmed again, with both Mr. Adam and his wife back in their vehicle, sirens announce the arrival of more police. Mr. Adam steps back out of his truck, when the officer tries to handcuff him.
Then, another officer bursts onto the scene and tackles him. He is captured punching Mr. Adam in the head while screaming “don’t resist.”
Mr. Adam yells, “I’m not resisting” and “Look, I’m bleeding.” He tells the officers again that he is a chief.
Photos taken at the police station and submitted to court on Thursday show his face swollen and bloody, and his lips cut. Four of his teeth were pushed back and need replacement, and because the police officer knelt on his neck, Mr. Adam has continued neck pain, his lawyer, Brian A. Beresh, said.
Mr. Adam’s wife, Freda Courtoreille, was arrested after her husband, once seven officers surrounded their car. But she was never charged and released on the scene, Mr. Beresh said. “You can’t arrest someone for having an expired sticker on their license,” he said.
Mr. Beresh is calling for the suspension of Constable Simon Seguin, the officer who, according to police notes filed in court, was the officer who tackled Mr. Adam.
“He came in like a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders tackle unit,” said Mr. Beresh, referring to the Regina football team.
“He doesn’t ask the other officer what’s going on,” he said. “He comes in and trashes him. Then to start punching him without asking any questions.”
“Surely, this is not what ‘to serve and protect’ is all about,” he added, referring to the force’s motto.
“Enough is enough,” said Mr. Adam, at his news conference last Saturday.
He has been chief of the first nation in northern Alberta for more than a dozen years and is a survivor of one of Canada’s residential schools, notorious for abusing Indigenous children, and found by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be part of a practice of “cultural genocide.
Mr. Adam said at the news conference that he wanted to be a voice for all those who had experienced violence at the hands of the police because of their race. He added that the long history of wrongful arrests and harassment by the authorities of Indigenous Canadians and other minorities “ends today.”
Mr. Trudeau, who took a knee at last week’s anti-racism protest in Ottawa, said this week that “systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all of our institutions, including in all of our police forces.”
On Friday, the police commissioner, Brenda Lucki, acknowledged that systemic racism is a problem in the R.C.M.P. “Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialized and Indigenous people fairly,” Ms. Lucki said in a statement.
Ms. Lucki said this week that the force will roll out the use of body cameras, which Mr. Trudeau supports.
She has also vowed to review the force’s use of the neckhold restraint used by police officers, even as she cautioned that the use of force by police was sometimes necessary.
In recent weeks, two other episodes between Indigenous people and the police have horrified Canadians. One was a bystander’s video of a police officer striking an intoxicated young man in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, with his car door before arresting him.
In another case, Chantel Moore, 26, from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, was shot by the police in New Brunswick in early June after they responded to a call asking that they check on her well being.
The police in Edmundston, where the killing took place, said that Ms. Moore left her apartment with a knife and that the officer shot her after she threatened the officer.
But family members have challenged that account, and Canada’s Indigenous services minister, Marc Miller, said he was outraged and demanded a “full accounting.”
The video involving Mr. Adam provoked reaction across the political spectrum in Canada.
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, wrote on Twitter: “This is what police brutality looks like. This is what conflict escalation looks like. This is what systemic racism toward Indigenous people looks like. And it needs to end.”
Andrew Scheer, the Conservative party leader, wrote on Twitter that he was “deeply disturbed by the video of Chief Adam.” He added: “This case is rightly being investigated. Excessive use of force by police is always wrong.”
Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, wrote on Twitter that in the province there would be “a focus on measures to combat racism & ensure equal protection of all before the law.”
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, which represents 634 reserves in Canada, said, “Excessive use of force is shocking and horrifying and I see that police in Canada tend to approach our people and black people with fear and malice and it is deeply seated and systemic.”
He called for the police to hire and promote more Indigenous people on the police force and for a more widespread use of police body cameras.