Justice Minister Mark Furey says he will not investigate whether an RCMP officer used excessive force in removing a man attending a public meeting put on by Atlantic Gold in Sherbrooke last week.
The news comes a day after Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia Society sent an open letter to Furey on Wednesday, calling the officer’s actions “shockingly brutal” in response to “a law-abiding citizen who was in no way causing a disturbance.”
The letter also requests the minister call a public inquiry into the May 24 incident to determine “who specifically called the RCMP, and why the RCMP acted immediately, without cause and without further assessment.”
Though Furey — a former Mountie — has the authority under the Nova Scotia Police Act to investigate the incident, he said in this case it would be inappropriate for him to get involved.
“For me to speculate on what information they had or might have had and to intervene would be totally inappropriate, that’s not my role as the justice minister,” said Furey. “The RCMP are an independent policing agency and there is a public complaints (process).”
Furey also told reporters Thursday that he has not seen a widely shared video capturing John Perkins being picked up by the officer inside the Sherbrooke Fire Hall and forcibly removed from the building with help from a security guard.
The society’s letter also calls for “clarification and clear instructions that RCMP are accountable to the appropriate government ministers and that they are not to be unduly influenced by resource extraction corporations.”
The province’s Police Act says that the minister may order an investigation into any matter relating to policing and law enforcement in the province, “including an investigation respecting the operation and administration of a police department.” It also says the justice minister has a duty to “promote the preservation of peace, and the improvement of police relationships with communities within the province.”
Premier Stephen McNeil echoed Furey’s comments, saying the matter ought to be handled through the public complaints process. “I know people aren’t happy,” said McNeil. “I would encourage them to do that.”
One of the public complaint options is Serious Incident Response Team and Furey has the authority under the act to instruct the oversight body to investigate the matter.
The society also called on Furey and the federal minister of public safety to publicly state all citizens can engage in legal, peaceful forms of questioning and dissent around resource extraction issues “without intimidation, the threat of police brutality or arbitrary surveillance.”