Saskatoon police are asking the public not to rush to judgment about the arrest of Evan Penner, but critics say it appears police have already made up their minds.
University of Regina associate professor Michelle Stewart, Penner's lawyer Eleanore Sunchild and others say police are being hypocritical. Police have been pleading for patience while publicly releasing selective, biased details about Penner, she said.
"It does appear to be contradictory to tell people to be patient, and then slowly enter in bits and pieces of information," Stewart said. "People are still looking for a form of accountability in policing that we simply don't have in Saskatchewan."
Sunchild said police are "in damage control mode. They're going to release whatever they can to try and assist their case. That includes information or disparaging comments about Evan Penner."
In a video captured by a bystander of Penner's arrest on July 4, officers punch and use a taser on Penner before leading him to a police cruiser. He was also pepper sprayed. Penner faces charges including resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.
Watch the video here:
The Public Complaints Commission is investigating the officers' actions. It's unclear when that work will be complete.
In a lengthy Facebook post Thursday, the police union stated, "The Saskatoon Police Association does not feel it is fair for anyone to provide comments before the all facts of the incident are known."
The post then describes some alleged details of the incident.
"It is important to remember that the officer involved in the incident on July 4th was in lawful execution of his duties and was assaulted," stated the post. "The Saskatoon Police Association unequivocally supports the member involved in this incident."
Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper also revealed some alleged details about the Penner case this week.
In an interview, police association spokesman Dave Larocque said they felt more details were necessary to help the public understand the background of the case.
"The only reason that we provided that information was to provide context," he said.
Laroque said he hopes the public will withhold judgment on both the officers and Penner until the legal process is complete.
Stewart said it's also hypocritical that Penner was criminally charged almost immediately after the incident, yet the commission could take months or years to decide if the officers did anything wrong. The lack of independent civilian oversight makes accountability even less likely, she said.
"Why is the default position that the police are correct? Everyone should be subject to equal scrutiny," Stewart said.
"Law enforcement has the ability to lay these charges of resisting arrest or assaulting a police officer against a complainant when excessive force is used. That seems to be the trend to justify excessive use of force," Sunchild said. "Had there not been a video in this case, we would have seen only one side of this story, the side of law enforcement."
Brian Pfefferle, co-president of the Saskatoon Criminal Defence Lawyers Association, said body cameras would have shown the entire police interaction with Penner. They also would have revealed whether there was more to the story or not, he said.
"If we want as a society to protect everybody, I'm a firm believer there's no better depicter of the facts that's completely independent and neutral than a video," Pfefferle said.
Pfefferle said it's "fair criticism" that citizens are charged immediately, but charges against police take much longer. He said Saskatchewan could learn lessons from B.C., where there's a more rigourous approval process for Crown prosecutors to follow when police recommend certain charges.