The BC Civil Liberties Association is raising a red flag following injuries to three northwest First Nations resident resulting from interactions with the RCMP.
One incident involves a 15-year old girl having her arm broken during an interaction with police in Prince Rupert, another involves Robert Wright, who suffered a serious head and brain injury while in Terrace RCMP cells and the third involves William Watts, who received serious head injuries after calling police for assistance with his sister.
“We are deeply concerned that one incident requiring independent investigation by an outside police force would take place in a five week period in this sparsely populated area, let alone three,” said Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA.
“All of the incidents involve families of Aboriginal descent, all called the RCMP for help with a family member, each case resulted in serious injury, and each took place in a specific geographic area over a short period of time. These factors suggest to us that there is a serious systemic problem.”
Two of the incidents, including the Prince Rupert one, are being investigated by outside police forces while the third is being investigated by an outside RCMP detachment.
The RCMP, however, says the BC Civil Liberties Association is out of line in the allegations.
“I am disappointed that the BCCLA would grandstand on these files when they know full well that there are independent external investigations ongoing by the New Westminster Police, Delta Police and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. The BCCLA would be the first to criticize the police, and has in the past, for speaking publicly about a complaint while it is still under investigation. If nothing else, they should hold themselves to their own standard. In light of the ongoing independent external investigations and CPC complaint, I question their objective,” said Superintendent Ray Bernoties, officer in charge of BC RCMP communications.
“It’s important to note that these are unsubstantiated allegations at this point and thus, it would be inappropriate for me, or frankly anyone, to speak about these incidents while they are being investigated. If charges are laid against an RCMP member in any of these matters, we will proactively inform the public, as we do in every case of an RCMP member being charged.”
The BC Civil Liberties Association notes that, at the current rate of three incidents in a five week period, RCMP in Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert would be involved in 31 serious injuries in the year, a rate of one incident for every 1,100 people. That number is five times as high as the serious injury rate for municipal departments in BC.
“These cases can’t be looked at in isolation by investigators, because they are not looked at in isolation by the community,” said Holmes.
“No group in society should be afraid that calling the police for help is more likely to result in serious injury for a family member or friend than a peaceful resolution of a problem. Yet many First Nations people have or are developing that view. That’s a systemic problem. Effective policing requires that the RCMP work on training for its officers to prevent these incidents and rebuilding the trust that is so essential to their role. What they’re doing right now isn’t working.”