The RCMP officer who fatally shot a man Castlegar’s Kinnaird Bridge five years ago expressed condolences to the victim’s family in his first statement at a manslaughter trial, but defended his actions as necessary.
Const. Jason Tait took the stand Oct. 22 and addressed the family of Waylon Edey, who were present at Nelson’s Capitol Theatre for Tait’s manslaughter trial. The theatre is being used as a courtroom because the regular courtroom at the Nelson Courthouse could not accommodate a physically distanced jury in a pandemic.
“I understand that this has been a long and difficult process for your family and for ours,” Tait said, looking toward Edey’s family members, “and I am very sorry for your loss. No words of mine will ever ease that, but as you will hear from the evidence I am going to give, I had no choice that night.”
The trial began on Sept. 28, and has since then consisted of the Crown’s evidence against Tait.
That evidence wrapped up Oct. 21, and in his opening remarks to the jury the following day Tait’s lawyer David Butcher said Tait had responded to a request from his supervisor to assist in the arrest of an impaired driver on the highway near Castlegar.
Police had his licence number and had identified him as Waylon Edey, a prohibited driver with a lengthy record of impaired driving and violence. Edey had been reported to police twice that afternoon for extreme intoxication by a bar owner and a drive-through restaurant.
The RCMP located Edey, and Tait pursued him and then placed his car across the westbound lane on the Kinnaird Bridge to block his path.
“Const. Tait found him and formulated a plan that he thought was most likely to prevent him from driving into Castlegar,” Butcher said. “Had Mr. Edey pulled over or stopped when Tait blocked half the highway, as he was legally obliged to do, this would not have happened, and we would not be here today.”
Butcher said that instead of stopping when Tait placed his car across the lane in Edey’s path, “Edey chose to drive directly at Tait’s car, forcing him to quickly get out of his vehicle and try to find a place of safety when the pickup was within two meters of his car.
“Edey then continued by swerving directly at Tait and when he was within a second of killing him, Tait fired his service pistol at Mr. Edey because he was in very legitimate fear of his life. He was entitled to defend himself. He had no choice. He did his job. He did nothing wrong.”
Referring to the Crown’s case that Tait’s actions were unnecessarily reckless and risky, Butcher told the jury, “I say in response to that, that the evidence … that you have heard so far, does not support any of those submissions. They’re not just wrong, they are rubbish.”
Butcher reminded the jury that the case was not investigated by the police but by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), which is called upon whenever a person is injured or killed by a police officer in B.C. Several IIO investigators had been called as witnesses by the Crown in the previous weeks of the trial.
“The IIO simply did an awful job,” Butcher said. “They were unqualified and under-resourced. They failed to to gather important evidence, failed to speak to important witnesses, and went expert-shopping when they did not like the first report they obtained. This investigation was shameful. Const. Tait sits here in part because of their incompetence.”
Butcher said he would provide evidence to back up all of his opening statements, including testimony from Tait.
The trial continues at the Capitol Theatre. There is limited space for members of the public on a first-come-first-served basis each day.