MHA’s comment about homeless ‘choosing’ risky lifestyle in wake of Inuk man’s arrest draws criticism

A video showing a municipal police officer in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., throwing a handcuffed homeless Inuk man to the ground has spurred an independent investigation and deeper conversations about homelessness in the community, with some taking issue with area MHA Perry Trimper’s comment that the town’s homeless population is “choosing” a risky lifestyle.

On Friday, Lela Evans, the member of the House of Assembly for Torngat Mountains, posted the video of the interaction on her Facebook page, having received it from someone who witnessed the police officer arresting the man and turning on a video to document the arrest from afar.

The video shows the handcuffed man being tossed to the ground by the officer. The town has launched an independent investigation, and the officer has been placed on administrative duty.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay town council had a brief special meeting Wednesday afternoon, where council unanimously approved a motion to hire law firm Stewart McKelvey to contract an independent investigator to look into the arrest.

During the live-streamed audio of the meeting, which lasted about three minutes, councillors agreed they wanted the investigation done as quickly as possible.

The town has declined to comment further until the investigation is completed.

A gathering is planned for outside the town hall building at 2 p.m. AT. The town hall is closing early ahead of that gathering.

When asked about the video, Trimper said he was “very concerned” by what he saw but that “there’s many things going on in that video besides a very aggressive take-down by the enforcement officer.”

Trimper cites ‘complicated problems’

Trimper said the video highlights the homelessness situation in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which is in his district of Lake Melville.

“In that video I see people who are battling addictions, I see people who are choosing to live a lifestyle which absolutely puts them at risk, and at the same time, I’m thinking … so many people have been involved in so many supports for helping people with homelessness,” Trimper said.

He pointed to government committees charged with co-ordinating responses to homelessness, as well as a lack of wait time for those looking for counselling and a mobile response team as some of the resources available.

“We have all of these supports out there, and we still have people who are, because of addictions, because of many complicated problems, are choosing, unfortunately, to live a lifestyle which is putting them at ris, and it’s leading to issues of putting, I’d say, other citizens in the community at risk.”

When people like Perry Trimper use terminology like ‘choosing’ the life of addiction, it brings up to me emotions of anger.– Jenny Oliver

Trimper said he’s been in conversations with the mayor and town councillors, as well as the province’s justice minister, about the video to figure out provincial resources that could help, adding that there have been issues around homelessness and addictions in the community for a long time.

“What’s challenging here is the town right now is dealing with a lot of this problem because they’re on the frontline, and we need to support them, and we all need to come together and see what we can do to contribute to a solution, because this has been going on for years,” Trimper told CBC’s Labrador Morning.

“I think what the rest of the province is realizing is that we have, at any one time, several dozen people who are choosing to live in the alders of Happy Valley-Goose Bay despite the fact we have all these supports.”

‘Listen, as opposed to just hear’

Trimper in total used the word “choosing” four times during an interview on Tuesday — a word choice that Nain resident Jenny Oliver said is not only concerning but points to a fundamental misunderstanding of the core issues faced by the population Trimper is talking about.

“When people like Perry Trimper use terminology like ‘choosing’ the life of addiction, it brings up to me emotions of anger, and it alerts me that people like him make decisions for our people,” said Oliver.

Warning: This video may be disturbing to some.

“He chooses to use his white lens when responding to Indigenous-related issues, and if he’s learned about intergenerational trauma, he would not have used ‘choose’ four times.”

Trimper has previously come under fire after accidentally leaving comments on a leaked voicemail, where he was recorded as describing Innu as playing the “race card.”

The call was placed in September 2019 to Dominic Rich, executive assistant to the Innu Nation, in relation to questions about a translator for motor vehicle registration.

After the Innu Nation released the recording, Trimper apologized, saying, “Regardless if it was recorded or not, I shouldn’t have said it.”

The symptoms of intergenerational trauma, stemming from historical mistreatment of Indigenous people in Canada, for example, in places such as residential schools, include alcoholism and addictions, Oliver said, and without understanding what that trauma entails, those in power can’t hope to address it.

“I think people really need to dig deeper and to listen, as opposed to just hear, to what Indigenous-related issues ar,” she said. “There should be some willingness to understand the challenges that Inuit people face and Innu people face, and people like Trimper should accept responsibility for making the change on a deeper and a broader scale.

“If he’s been educated and he’s been taught and he’s still making these statements, I really don’t know what the answer is.”

‘I have a lot of hope for change’

One solution, she said, could be expanding trauma-informed training from Indigenous allies to educate people more about intergenerational trauma.

Another option, Oliver said, is having people who work directly with those affected embedded in Indigenous communities on the Labrador coast for a period of time, to allow them first-hand experience of working with those populations and understanding why they move to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

“Perhaps we can have somebody like the community constable go into communities and have somebody work with them to understand all of the different layers and levels of trauma, to see why and how our people are the way that we are, before they even start working with the people,” she said.

“And perhaps we might have people who are not able to understand, and then those people should not work with our people. If they cannot understand the hardships, then we will still have people working within our communities using their abuse of power to Innu and Inuit.”

Oliver said that as an Inuk, she was not surprised at what she saw in the video, but she has hope that education and information can help spur change needed.

“I wasn’t surprised to see the treatment that this man faced, but I was really happy that it was recorded because it gives proof,” she said. “Unfortunately, Indigenous people everywhere — and in particular in Labrador — it seems like you need videos for proof when something happens.

“I have a lot of hope for change. I would hope that the Innu and Inuit are able to collaborate with people that come into our communities and work with our people.”

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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