It took a cannister of pepper spray, a bullet in the back and two RCMP officers to subdue Rennie Anthony Norton in a terrifying roadside confrontation Friday night, three kilometres east of Lanigan. Four days later, it's still far from clear whether the 43-year-old from the Muskowekwan reserve is the victim or the assailant in the events that unravelled over 20 minutes in the early evening hours of Nov. 26.
In two court appearances in two days, defence lawyer Dwayne Roth raised the spectre of racism, police brutality, a police cover-up and the need for an independent inquiry. Roth's pointed account Monday about the circumstances of the confrontation, alleging the RCMP shot a frightened man in the back as he fled, forced the police to release their own statement - an unusual step when a matter is before the courts - and prompted Judge Ron Bell to warn against debating the case in the media. Bell made his remarks Tuesday after granting bail to Norton on a host of conditions. The accused returns to court Jan. 10 for election and plea.
Crown prosecutor Christine Haynes presented the police version of events at the bail hearing. Rather than an innocent victim of police brutality, Norton instead emerged as an enraged drunk who publicly beat his wife and then attempted to run over her and an RCMP officer with a half-ton truck when the officer tried to intercede. Haynes said the RCMP officer responded to a call from the Lanigan gas station at about 7:30 p.m. to the effect that a man was beating a woman in the parking lot, "pulling her hair and lifting her off the ground." When the officer arrived, witnesses gave a truck description and pointed him down the Yellowhead highway.
Three kilometres later, he pulled the truck over with a woman driving and a man sitting in the middle seat. "She was crying and had bloody lips. She told the officer, `I'm getting out' and then exited, moving behind the officer," Haynes said. Norton then slid over and pushed the officer away. As the officer tried to question Norton, the woman went to seek refuge in the cruiser. It was locked.
"Then Norton jumped out and began gesturing at the officer with his fists clenched. When the officer reached for his pepper spray, Norton became angrier and kept coming forward," Haynes said. The officer sprayed Norton, who then started throwing rocks at the RCMP member. He then went back to the truck, saying "I will get you," according to the prosecutor. Norton pulled the truck back onto the highway. As he did a U-turn to face the cruiser, the officer took out his service revolver as he feared for his own safety and the safety of the woman. She had still not been able to get into the cruiser. The officer fired twice, hitting the truck's rear and front tires. The officer then instructed the woman to manoeuvre to keep the cruiser between herself and the truck. "He (Norton) aimed the truck at the front of the cruiser, accelerated and then hit it. He then backed up and went into the ditch where the couple were standing. As he drove by, in the ditch, the officer fired three shots into the cab as it passed "to neutralize the threat."
The woman, meanwhile, was screaming "Get us out of here, get us out of here." The truck came to a stop in a pile of hay bales in the field. Norton exited and advanced toward the cruiser just as police backup arrived. He fell to his knees then arose and continued to advance, still yelling at officers. The police were able to subdue Norton and place him in handcuffs. At that point, he indicated that he had been shot. Still threatening officers, he was taken to Lanigan and then to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.
At the bail hearing, Roth offered a detailed treatment plan for Norton on release, including an alcohol and drug assessment and anger management. He proposed, and Bell accepted, a plan to move Norton to Prince Albert where he would live under a strict regimen of reporting conditions. Outside court, he said simply "the Crown wasn't able to prove that his detention was necessary." He said the Crown did not prove that Norton tried to run over his wife and the officer."Certainly that's the spin that they're putting on it, but we could equally say with as much credibility that he was trying to flee the scene and he had pepper spray in his eyes. The fact he had pepper spray in his eyes is not in dispute," he said. Not only did Roth suggest an independent review, he offered that it should be headed by Prince Albert lawyer Gerald Morin. Morin chaired the APEC inquiry into police actions at the Vancouver summit before stepping down. "We're hoping there is political motivation to address this issue in an independent inquiry," Roth said.
"Certainly there is mandatory reviews, the RCMP do internal investigations. We're not confident in the ability of that investigation to give a fair and impartial review of this matter. We foresee that what they're going to do is totally justify and exonerate the actions of the police officer, and we're not confident that's what occurred." He further suggested that racism played a part in how the events were handled. "Did race play a part? We have one statement from a witness at the Esso station in Lanigan who reported in her statement what she saw was 'two Indians in the parking lot fighting.' Was that relayed to the police officer and did that have any part to play in this?" Roth said that such an inquiry is necessary to maintain aboriginal confidence in the justice system."The shooting of an aboriginal man by police on a public highway at night is a big issue."
Before The Fifth Estate found our story we had put up several pages like this one which we posted in early 2000. Make no mistake, we were desperate. As it happened, Fifth Estate associate producer Howard Goldenthal was looking for information on the Murray Zoorkan, the cop who enlisted Dueck to help him terrorize postal worker Kim Cooper into "confessing" to stealing money from the post office. (Both cops were sergeants in 1997 when they committed the crime against Cooper -- now both are Superintendents and only one of them is being sued.
The Saskatchewan department which foots the bill for stonewalling justice