The family of an Indigenous man who died in RCMP custody three years ago found out this week that five officers who could still face criminal charges related to his death remain in active duty in the community.
“I was shocked to find out that they are not only still working, but they are still working as RCMP,” Dale Culver’s daughter Lily Speed-Namox, 17, told HuffPost Canada.
“It makes me feel unsafe. I have this fear that an officer is going to stop me and try to do something or say something.There’s been a breaking of trust between the RCMP and our community.”
She said her family has never been notified about what happened to the officers following the sudden death of Culver, 35, in Prince George, B.C., in July 2017. They found out from a Globe and Mail article earlier this week that the officers had returned to their positions within the RCMP following the incident, Speed-Namoux said.
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The Mounties had confronted Culver after receiving a call alleging a man was looking for vehicles to break into. Culver had attempted to ride away from them on his bike, according to B.C.’s Independent Investigations Officer (IIO). A struggle ensued, police used pepper spray, and then Culver appeared to have trouble breathing and was put in a police cruiser.
Police called an ambulance and said that once it arrived, Culver was taken out of the vehicle and collapsed, reported the IIO. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The IIO determined last week that reasonable grounds exist to charge two officers for using excessive force and three other officers for obstructing justice. The BC Prosecution Service will decide if there’s a substantial likelihood of conviction and if it’s in the public interest to prosecute.
Culver’s cousin Debbie Pierre said the family is hopeful there is enough evidence for the Crown to proceed with charges and that their “loss is not in vain.”
“Although he is not here, hopefully he ensures that we have a better future and a safe community,” said Pierre.
B.C. RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said in an email that “the officers involved in the incident have all returned to active duty in their respective units and the RCMP will continue to provide them with support during the next phase of this process.”
Shoihet refused to say when they returned to their units or if they’ve faced any disciplinary measures.
“While we recognize that this is part of the process, the impact [IIO’s findings] may have on not only the family of the deceased but also on our employees cannot be understated,” said Shoihet. “Our thoughts remain with the family during this difficult time.”
Witnesses at the scene of Culver’s arrest were told by RCMP officers to delete cellphone videos, according to a formal complaint filed by the BC Civil Liberties Association against the police force in 2018. The association also alleged that officers forced Culver to the ground immediately after he left a liquor store, and punched him while pinned down.
The Coroner’s office determined Culver’s brain had swelled — a sign of an injury, according to the complaint. However, the BC Coroners Service has declined to release the cause of death during an open investigation.
Culver was a father of three and member of Gitxsan Wet’suwet’en Nation. Speed-Namoux’s siblings were only five years old and six months old when Culver died, and she doesn’t want them to grow up angry at the RCMP.
“It would be nice to be able to have an apology, so that when they’re older, I can show them that there was something that was said, and that [the police] didn’t just go silent,” said Speed-Namoux.
“So they can feel like it’s not just emptiness.”
“If you’re arrested, you shouldn’t end up dying,” said B.C.’s Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee, pointing not only to Dale Culver, but also Clayton Willey, who died in the RCMP’s Prince George detachment in 2003, and Everrett Patrick, who died after being arrested in April.
In Toronto, the Ontario police watchdog is investigating the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from her balcony last week while officers were on scene.
The recent death of African American man George Floyd, after a Minneapolis, Minn. police officer kneeled on his neck during an arrest, is also reminiscent of the treatment of Indigenous and Black Canadians and persistent, systemic racism here, said Teegee.
“Whether we like it or not, we live in a white society where there’s white privilege,” he said. “Who pays the price? The minorities.”
In Minneapolis, police arrived on scene after receiving a report that a man used what appeared to be a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. In Culver’s case, police were called because an Indigenous man was riding his bike with a backpack on, said Teegee.
“Right away there’s this notion that perhaps this kid is out there casing vehicles,” he said.
“That’s the problem here. In general society there’s already an inequality and accusation if you’re Indigenous, you’re guilty. If you’re a Black person, you’re already guilty. Just because of your skin colour.”
The IIO does not collect race-based data, such as the number of arrests of Indigenous people that result in injuries or death. That’s hopefully going to change soon, said Chief Civilian Director Ronald MacDoanld.
He said a main difference between policing in Canada and the U.S. is that there are independent oversight bodies in Canada, such as the IIO, and Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, that take over cases involving death or serious harm that may have been caused by the actions of a police officer.
“When something like that happens, we get to the scene as quickly as we can to take over the investigation,” said MacDonald.
“And it helps that the public knows it’s in our hands. They can be satisfied that an independent body did a full, thorough investigation into the matter. That goes a long way to help maintain confidence in the justice system.”
In recent days, the RCMP has launched two separate investigations into violent arrests.
The RCMP in Nunavut ordered an internal and external investigation into an officer’s conduct after a video surfaced that appears to show him pushing a man down with the open door of a pickup truck.
The video from Monday shows a man staggering onto a street when an officer, driving the police vehicle, pulled up beside him and knocked him down. The officer left the truck and pinned the man to the ground where he was joined by three other officers to make the arrest.
The officer driving the truck has been removed from the community, said the Nunavut RCMP.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented on the incident Thursday.
“We recognize in Canada that there are systemic discrimination problems that we need to address in our justice system,” Trudeau told reporters. “Even as we watch with horror what’s going on in the United States, we know we have an awful lot of work to do right here in Canada.”
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In Kelowna, B.C. Saturday, officers appeared to restrain a man while another officer repeatedly punched him in the stomach, as captured in a 12-second video.
“Obviously in this short duration of the video, the action is concerning,” commanding officer Brent Mundle told reporters Tuesday, adding that he has launched an investigation.
All of these instances of alleged police violence, particularly toward Indigenous people, fills Speed-Namox’s mother Tracy Speed with fear that something “bad” will happen to to her daughter or other young, Indigenous people in Prince George if they’re approached by the RCMP.
That worry is heightened especially now that Tracy knows that the officers who arrested Culver on the night of his death remain on the job in their community.
“Children of Aboriginal descent are living in fear of the RCMP and that’s not where we should be in this country,” Tracy said. “You shouldn’t be afraid when an officer approaches a child or an adult. They’re there to serve and protect the people.”