The Pine Street/Sexqeltqin Bridge across the South Thompson River in Chase/Secwépemc territory was part of the focus of an Independent Investigations Office of BC decision released March 24, 2021 that found a Chase RCMP officer had not committed an offence on Oct. 2, 2020. (File photo)

The Pine Street/Sexqeltqin Bridge across the South Thompson River in Chase/Secwépemc territory was part of the focus of an Independent Investigations Office of BC decision released March 24, 2021 that found a Chase RCMP officer had not committed an offence on Oct. 2, 2020. (File photo)

Indigenous family in Shuswap deeply concerned about decision of police watchdog

Report clears officer in events leading to suicide attempt, advocates point to systemic racism, bias

The family of an Indigenous girl who was severely injured after a fall from a bridge is deeply concerned about a decision of the police watchdog.

The Independent Investigations Office of BC released a decision on March 24 that a Chase RCMP officer had not committed an offence in the minutes leading up to the incident.

The IIO is a civilian-led police watchdog that investigates deaths or serious harm that may have resulted from the actions of a police officer.

According to the document outlining the IIO decision, Chase RCMP received a call on the non-emergency line about noon on Oct. 2, 2020. The caller said a young Indigenous female had thrown herself in front of a vehicle on Pine Street. The officer went to look for her, found someone who appeared to match the description and spoke to her.

The description had included the detail that she was wearing socks but no shoes. 

The officer got out of his car and spoke to her. The girl told him to ‘f— off’ and walked away. The interaction lasted less than a minute. The officer then drove back to the RCMP detachment.

Five minutes later, police received a 911 call from a witness who had seen a girl fall from the nearby Pine Street Bridge.

When the 16-year-old girl, who survived but suffered devastating injuries, was interviewed by the IIO, she told them she had first tried unsuccessfully to drown herself in a creek, before jumping in front of the vehicle. The report said none of the witnesses mentioned the girl’s clothing appeared wet. Her mother told the IIO her clothes were still wet hours later.

The central question asked in the IIO investigation was whether the officer failed in his duty to protect the girl by leaving without taking further action.

The IIO’s conclusion stated, in part: “It could be said that prudence might have suggested to the officer that he should follow AP (affected person; ie the girl), attempting to ‘keep an eye on’ her, but that was neither what she wanted, nor what he was duty-bound to do. It is reasonable to assume, further, that AP would have waited until SO (subject officer) left before going to the bridge railing and climbing over it.”

Regarding that IIO assumption, in a family statement issued March 25 the family said they saw the assumption as an attempt to “somehow mitigate the failure of the officer to properly intervene, assist and protect the girl.”

Due to privacy the girl’s family did not wish to speak, but family friend Michelle Good issued the statement about the IIO report on their behalf.

“She was soaking wet. She was in her sock feet. There was evidence available to the officer she may have already attempted suicide by jumping in front of the vehicle on Pine Street.”

Good said the officer should have noticed she was wet.

Read more: Police watchdog clears RCMP officer in young Chase woman’s fall from bridge

Read more: Police watchdog investigating after woman jumps from bridge in Chase after speaking with RCMP officer

The family statement pointed to the high rate of on-reserve Indigenous suicide in Canada, especially the sky-rocketing rate for youth, something anyone must or should know, especially a member of the RCMP.

It also noted that police are empowered under the BC Mental Health Act to apprehend and deliver someone to hospital if they are demonstrating a likelihood to harm themselves or others.

“He failed to take sufficient time – anything over a minute – to consider his jurisdictional options in what was obviously a case where protection was needed,” the statement reads.

The family also said the IIO report described the officer as being ‘affected emotionally,’ as if the feeling mitigated the deep and lasting harm that resulted.

The family statement referred to a “deeply disheartening” conversation in the IIO report between the officer involved and a second officer after the 911 call came in, during which the second officer immediately asked if the girl was drunk.

The IIO document said the first officer explained he had spoken to the girl because she fell in front of a vehicle. The second officer said: “Oh, she’s like drunk? Like drunk, fell in front or threw herself in front of… or just collapsed?”

The first officer said the caller didn’t know if the girl was playing around.

The family statement noted the family requested a toxicology screen at the hospital, which returned negative.

Overall, the family statement pointed to systemic racism, unconscious bias and a profound failing on the part of the officer to protect the girl. 

“The family is considering its options, sickened that even after the CRCC (Civilian Review and Complains Commission for the RCMP) report on the (Colten) Boushie matter, no improvement is noted or in sight.”

Asked about concerns, Sgt. Barry Kennedy of Chase RCMP backed the findings of the IIO.

Regarding the Mental Health Act, he said the officer “determined that the female was presenting as competent and therefore no detention was made.”

He also said there was no correlation between the officer mentioning ‘being drunk’ and the girl being Indigenous; the officer was simply asking why the girl fell in front of the vehicle.

Read more: New app a ‘safe space’ for Indigenous people to report racism in B.C. health care

Read more: Report: Anti-Indigenous racism embedded in B.C. health-care system

Natalie Clark, associate professor and chair of the School of Social Work and Human Service at Thompson Rivers University, is recognized as an expert in the area of healing from violence and trauma with children, youth, their families and communities. She is part of the Secwépemc community, a trauma counsellor at the Neskonlith Education Centre, grew up in Chase and later returned to the community.

She also spoke to the IIO report.

She said while the report stated there were no lawful grounds to detain the girl if she did not want to stop and talk with the officer, there is widespread evidence of police criminalizing and targeting youth who are Indigenous and people of colour across Canada.

She gave the example of her son and his cousin who were walking a dog in Chase when they were stopped by police.

“They definitely can stop and they do,” she said of Chase police.

She said she views the phone call as a request for a type of wellness check.

“If they can’t respond in a way a caring citizen would respond, we have a pretty broken system.”

She listed several possible alternatives, including making contact with mental health, a social worker, family, the bands or perhaps an ambulance. Not just by police but by any witness who saw the girl. She said she would hope, if this was her child, that any citizen would act in a culturally safe and trauma-informed way (acting as if the person is likely to have a history of trauma).

She said even if a youth was drunk or high, all the more reason to ensure they’re safe.

Clark noted there are present-day and historical reasons why there is Indigenous distrust of police, social workers and mental health workers, which include intergenerational trauma from residential schools.

She said a lot of recommendations to do with policing can be found both in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action.

Clark said Vancouver police have acknowledged the systemic racism.

To her, reading the IIO report was the same as any other, she said, with it focusing on an individual instead of endemic racism.

“This is systemic. It happens every single day, in moments like this.”


martha.wickett@saobserver.net
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

IndigenousRCMP Inquiry

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

A Chase RCMP officer was the focus of an Independent Investigations Office of BC decision released March 24, 2021 that found the officer had not committed an offence involving an Indigenous youth on Oct. 2, 2020. (File photo)

A Chase RCMP officer was the focus of an Independent Investigations Office of BC decision released March 24, 2021 that found the officer had not committed an offence involving an Indigenous youth on Oct. 2, 2020. (File photo)

Just Posted

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

BC CDC data showing the geographic distribution of COVID cases in the province. (BC CDC photo)
One new case of COVID-19 in Golden

Cases continue to surge in surrounding areas

The Golden Golf Club will open for a new season on the links beginning April 24. (Claire Palmer photo)
Golden Golf club eyes April 24 start

The golf course is supporting local businesses with the driving range and mini-golf

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The plane blasted through an airport fence and down a hill, before stopping before a cement barrier on Highway 5A, right in front of a school bus. Photo submitted.
Student pilot crashes plane onto Highway 5A in Princeton

Aircraft hit pavement right in front of school bus

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to a truck fire on Dallas Road in Vernon April 15, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
WATCH: Vernon firefighters quick to douse fully involved truck fire

The fire was near multiple structures and spreading along the ground upon crews’ arrival

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

Fire crews tend to a collision that is causing severe traffic delays on the William R. Bennett bridge headed east into Kelowna. (Aaron Hemens - Kelowna Capital News)
7 vehicle collision on WR Bennett Bridge under investigation

The collision backed up traffic on the William R. Bennett bridge for much of the morning

Kelowna company celebrates milestone of producing 46 million masks in under a year.
46 million masks and counting: Kelowna company reaches 1 year milstone

In under a year, Breathe Manufacturing Ltd. in Kelowna has hit production of 46 million masks for front-line workers

The organizer of a Kelowna protest against COVID-19 restrictions was fined by the RCMP for the third time Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (File photo)
Kelowna RCMP investigating hit and run involving 11-year-old

Police said the boy suffered minor injuries

Most Read