Deaths in Custody Prove Police Shouldn’t Police themselves say NDP

DEATHS IN CUSTODY PROVE POLICE SHOULDN’T POLICE THEMSELVES SAY NDP

OTTAWA – The deaths of Whitehorse residents Raymond Silverfox and Robert Stone are fuelling calls for changes to how the national police force investigates potential wrongdoing by its members. Both died needlessly while either in jail or just after being detained by the RCMP.

“Public confidence in the RCMP has been seriously shaken in recent years,” said Don Davies, New Democrat Public Safety Critic. “The government owes it to Canadians and to RCMP officers to restore that confidence. Allegations of police wrongdoing must be investigated without any appearance of bias. Police should not be investigating police.”

On Thursday, Davies was joined by fellow New Democrat MPs Dennis Bevington and Nathan Cullen, as well as Yukon NDP Leader Elizabeth Hanson, at a press conference where they called for a civilian oversight agency to oversee any investigation of the RCMP. The agency would be similar to the Special Investigations Unit, which investigates the provincial police in Ontario.

“The RCMP plays an important role in Northern communities and needs to maintain good relations with Northerners; incidents like these, coupled with a suspect investigation process, undermine their relationship with the community,” said New Democratic Northern Affairs Critic Dennis Bevington.

On April 28th, a motion in the Yukon Legislature calling for a public inquiry into Mr. Silverfox’s death was defeated by the right-wing governing Yukon Party.

“Public confidence in the RCMP in the Yukon has been shaken to the core by the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Silverfox, Mr. Stone, and three other in-custody deaths of First Nations people since 1999,” said Yukon NDP Leader Elizabeth Hanson.

“Twenty-five per cent of the Yukon population of 34,000 is First Nations, so the number of cases is statistically significant, and suggests to some people we might be witnessing systemic prejudice within the force.”

On November 2nd, 2009, New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen introduced a private members bill that would create an independent civilian investigation agency for the RCMP.

“We have heard from the Auditor General, from the head of the RCMP, from frontline officers, and everyday Canadians,” said Cullen. “Everybody recognizes the need for independent investigations. Our system is broken and the government must act now to fix it.”

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For more information, please contact: Tim Howlett, Office of Nathan Cullen, 613-993-8662

Backgrounder: In-Custody Deaths in the Yukon

Five suspicious in-custody deaths in Yukon since 1999

(1) Robert Stone, 34, died May 2, 2010, in a detox centre, 26 hours after he was released from the custody of the Whitehorse RCMP. He was First Nations.

(2) Raymond Silverfox, 43, died of pneumonia in hospital on December 2, 2008, after spending 13 hours in the custody of the Whitehorse RCMP. He was First Nations

(3) Fred Stewart, died of acute alcohol poisoning while in custody of Whitehorse RCMP in March 2000. He was First Nations.

(4) Madeleine Henry, died of complications from pneumonia after more than 12 hours in the custody of Whitehorse RCMP in June 2000. She was First Nations.

(5) John Tibbett Jr., 38, died while in custody of Watson Lake RCMP in December 1999. He was First Nations.

More information on Robert Stone

Mr. Stone was found dead in the Whitehorse detox centre. He died at approximately 10 a.m. on May 2, 2010, after he had been in RCMP custody.

The family of Robert Stone has filed a complaint with the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP after finding heavy bruising and what they see as Taser-like marks on his head. They have also retained a lawyer and are calling for a second autopsy.

Stone had been arrested two months earlier, just days after his wife Lu-Anne Clement died of heart problems.

Stone leaves his two children orphaned and his family devastated.

More information on Raymond Silverfox

Mr. Silverfox, 43, died in hospital after he had been kept in the Whitehorse RCMP detachment’s drunk tank for more than 13 hours on December  2, 2008. RCMP officers and guards did not seek medical help for Silverfox as he lay in a pool of his own vomit and excrement during his time in custody. Some officers and guards even mocked and jeered Silverfox, the inquest into his death heard. He died in hospital of acute pneumonia, which a medical expert testified was likely the result of Silverfox inhaling his vomit.

His family has appealed a Yukon coroner’s inquest that concluded Silverfox died of natural causes, pointing to testimony and evidence that showed RCMP officers and guards treated him poorly while he was in custody.

Shawn Atleo, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said a full public inquiry is the only way to get at the truth surrounding the man’s death, as well as prevent similar deaths from happening in the future.