Police watchdog warns against drawing conclusions before all the evidence is in
A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that the Smithers RCMP officer in this photo ‘falsely arrested, assaulted, and battered’ a Wet’suweten elder after he mistakenly suspected her of shoplifting. (Smithers Interior News)
A spate of police-involved deaths and serious injuries in north central B.C. is causing growing concern. At least three of the incidents involved Indigenous people.
Over a three-day period, between May 29 and 31, B.C.’s police watchdog announced three new probes into police incidents in small towns in north-central B.C.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is now looking into one police-involved death in Kitimat, as well as serious injuries to two people in Williams Lake and Prince Rupert after their contact with RCMP officers.
Last week, in a separate case, the IIO asked Crown counsel to consider whether five Mounties be criminally charged over an Indigenous man’s death in 2017. The man was in police custody in Prince George when he died.
And last month a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that a Mountie “assaulted and battered” an Indigenous elder he suspected of shoplifting, after tackling her in a 2014 incident in Smithers.
“There’s a very cavalier and cowboy attitude of the RCMP, and quite frankly, they’ve been getting away with this for far too long,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “We need to take a close look at what’s going on in the U.S. and be more vocal and take these matters to the streets.”
Protest over death of man suspected in break-in
On Monday, about two dozen people gathered outside the Burns Lake RCMP detachment to do just that. They were protesting the death of Everett Patrick in police custody in April.
Patrick, 42, a member of the Lake Babine Nation, was suspected of breaking into a downtown business in Prince George.
The RCMP say that after a lengthy standoff with an Emergency Response Team, Patrick was arrested with the help of a police dog team.
Police say Patrick was taken to hospital, then back to the RCMP detachment, but died later after returning to the hospital.
“I want these cops to stop abusing our people,” said Darlene Patrick, Everett’s aunt, at Monday’s protest.
Patrick was at the Burns Lake rally in her nephew’s home community, alongside elders in COVID face masks and protesters who spread out around the police station as they physically distanced.
Rally organizer Cheryl Casimir said she welcomed the three RCMP officers who stood in the parking lot to listen. She said the gathering helped her feel less helpless.
“Even if it’s just a small village like Burns Lake, I think it has to start everywhere,” Casimir said.
Charges against 5 Prince George Mounties under consideration
Everett’s death in police custody is still being investigated by the IIO. So is the case of Dale Culver, who died after being arrested in Prince George in 2017.
Culver, a 35-year-old Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en man, was accused by police of “casing vehicles” and fleeing from officers on his bicycle. According to the IIO, Culver was pepper sprayed, had trouble breathing and died later in hospital.
Now the IIO has just asked Crown counsel to consider whether five RCMP officers should be criminally charged with use of force and obstruction of justice in Culver’s death.
Witnesses say police at the scene told them to erase their video footage of the arrest.
The officers involved are still on the job.
Officers back on duty
“All members in the Prince George incident have returned to active duty,” said Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, senior media relations officer with the RCMP’s E Division.
Another officer, who the court determined tackled and sat on a Wet’suwet’en elder in Smithers in 2014, is also still on active duty.
Late last month, six years after the incident, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled Const. Darrin Meier “falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned, assaulted and battered” Irene Joseph.
Meier wrestled with Joseph after mistakenly suspecting the senior citizen of shoplifting.
“I was wrongly accused by this RCMP and for him to do this to me wasn’t right at this age,” Joseph said after she won the lawsuit.
The court awarded Joseph $55,000 in her civil lawsuit against Meier and the attorney general of Canada.
‘You can’t draw conclusions’: IIO
The IIO’s chief civilian director Ronald MacDonald cautions people against drawing conclusions about police-involved deaths and injuries before all the evidence is in.
“You can’t draw conclusions til you’ve gathered all the evidence and properly analyzed it,” he said recently.
But Grand Chief Phillip says these cases appear to be part of a disturbing pattern.
“For the RCMP, there are no consequences. It’s absolutely disgusting. It’s infuriating. In the George Floyd case, the officers were immediately fired,” said Phillip.
Philip says RCMP must be held to account.
Mary Teegee, executive director of child and family services at Carrier Sekanni Family Services says her Indigenous agency recognizes many police officers are “virtuous and work well with Nation members.”
But Teegee calls police brutality “colonial violence we endure each and every day in Canada.”