Annette Custer, who identified herself Tuesday as the woman involved in a videotaped incident where she was pinned to the ground by a Saskatoon FreshCo security guard, “had her dignity stripped from her,” says a lawyer representing the Indigenous woman.
“Too often … this type of treatment of Indigenous people, especially Indigenous women, goes unnoticed,” said Michael Seed, legal counsel for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. “It gets routed into the shadows and gets forgotten.”
On Tuesday, the FSIN — which represents 74 Saskatchewan First Nations — held a press conference demanding accountability from the Saskatoon Police Service and elected officials following the incident.
“We know the abuse of authority … happens,” Custer said. “It happens in our city, it happens in our communities.”
A nine-minute video showing the altercation at the FreshCo on Saskatoon’s 33rd Street W. last Wednesday shows a man who identifies himself as the grocery store security guard trying to force handcuffs on the woman, who has now been identified as Custer.
What led to the incident is not entirely clear.
Seed says after Custer was pinned to the ground, she sustained physical and psychological injuries, but he did not elaborate on their extent.
GRAPHIC WARNING | Video of altercation between Annette Custer and security guard:
Custer has been charged with theft and assault following the incident. She remains the only person charged.
Seed said he wants Custer’s complaint against the security guard investigated and wants police to bring forth charges against the security guard.
A spokesperson for Saskatoon police said the incident remains under investigation, and that if police need to seek an opinion from the Crown on whether to lay charges they will do so.
Public Prosecutions will review any referral made by police.
The Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety’s Private Investigator’s and Security Guards Programs is also reviewing the incident.
Saskatchewan Attorney General and Justice Minister Gord Wyant issued a statement condemning all forms of racism, discrimination, intolerance and bigotry.
However, because the matter remains under investigation he declined to provide further comment.
Management at the FreshCo location where the incident took place said they’ve terminated their contract with ESM Solutions — the company that employed the guard — as a result of the incident. The store’s owner, Chris Fowler, said in a Facebook post last week he was “shocked and horrified” by the incident.
Indigenous communities traumatized by incident
Custer, a 30-year-old mother who is originally from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan, remains traumatized, Seed said.
She publicly identified herself as the person involved in the incident for the first time at Tuesday’s press conference, but she did not speak.
“Annette is going to be scarred for the rest of her life,” said Prince Albert Grand Council Vice-Chief Chris Jobb.
But the incident, which was recorded by a witness, didn’t just traumatize Custer, says FSIN Vice-Chief David Pratt.
“This is something that’s very traumatic for all of us to witness,” he said.
The federation fields daily phone calls from Indigenous people facing discrimination within every Saskatchewan sector, including health, child welfare, justice and education, said Pratt.
“Saskatchewan has a racism problem, whether people want to acknowledge that or not. Whether they’re government or sitting in this society, it has to be addressed,” Pratt said.
He is calling for a provincewide anti-racism strategy, and for mandatory Indigenous studies classes in the school system.
“People need to know the true history of what’s happened to our people, and why we’re where we are today. Otherwise, these acts of violence will continue,” Pratt said.
“If she was a white woman, would that have happened? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves.”
Violence against women
FSIN Vice-Chief Heather Bear said the force Custer faced is fuelled by violence against women.
“This is not an isolated incident. [It’s] an incident that occurs more often than not when it comes to Indigenous women and girls: the mistreatment, the abuse, the attacks, the racism, the marginalization,” Bear said.
Custer’s experience is a clear example of systemic racism that needs to be addressed, she said.
“You have laws to protect animals that don’t get treated like this,” said Bear. “We need to have better effort for training and cultural sensitivity.”