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Investigation underway in abuse claim

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - An RCMP member from Behchoko has been appointed to investigate claims of police abuse made by a Dettah elder.

Alfred Baillargeon, 74, had been drinking in downtown Yellowknife on Jan. 22, when he was picked up by police for being intoxicated.

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Albert Baillargeon, 74, displays injuries suffered on Jan. 22. An investigation is underway to see whether claims of RCMP abuse are founded. - NNSL file photo

The elder said he woke up later that night injured in the drunk tank, wearing only a t-shirt, shorts and socks. The next morning his arm was so swollen he said he couldn't tie his shoes.

RCMP Const. Stephanie Ward confirmed Sgt. Cliff MacKay from Behchoko was appointed to look into the allegation.

She said he was chosen after the complaint was formalized. The fact MacKay is from outside Yellowknife and is an experienced investigator were taken into consideration in the decision, she said.

As well, the Dene Nation appointed Francois Paulette as an independent observer.

The independent observer position is part of a public safety cooperation protocol signed in 2007 between the Dene Nation, Northwest Territories Metis Nation, North Slave Metis Alliance and the RCMP.

It was set up to raise cultural awareness and ensure transparency in investigations.

Ward said the observer can sit in on interviews and provide information or suggestions toward the RCMP investigation.

MacKay will speak with people involved in the incident and with any witnesses that may come forward.

"There have been some witnesses spoken to and interviewed and statements obtained, but there are still some more people to speak to," said MacKay.

Following the incident, Beatrice Sangris - Baillargeon's daughter - said in an interview that a witness told her they saw the incident and said without that, the family would have never known that any abuse could have taken place.

Baillargeon did not remember what happened at the time.

Sangris could not be reached for interview at press time, as a family member said she was in Edmonton.

Both MacKay and Ward said there was no timetable on when the results of the investigation will be released, but Ward said it will get out to the public when completed.

"With these types of investigations, it just depends on who was all involved, who still needs to be spoken to, who will come forward," she said.

"I couldn't tell you the length because it's all dependent on what needs to be done."

On Thursday, Jan. 29, Sgt. Larry O'Brien announced the RCMP would be investigating the complaint. At that time, the family was assured a second investigation could be performed by the independent Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP if they were not satisfied with the RCMP-led investigation's findings.