A judge has quashed the results of a coroner’s inquest into the death of Raymond Silverfox, who died in police custody in 2008.
Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale concluded the 2010 inquest was flawed and unfair. He rejected the inquest’s conclusion that Silverfox died from natural causes.
Veale found two big problems with the inquest.
First, the chief coroner did not summarize or properly explain the evidence to the jury before they were sent to decide their verdict, Veale’s decision states. This is especially important because in an inquest, the lawyers don’t get to give a closing argument.
Second, the coroner decided to fast-forward the video footage of Silverfox in RCMP cells where he spent the last 13-and-a-half hours of his life.
While in the cell, Silverfox vomited 26 times and defecated and urinated on the floor. His pleas for help were met by ridicule by the officers until they found him unresponsive at 6:43 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2008.
The 43-year-old was taken to Whitehorse General Hospital where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy later found that he died of sepsis, which is an infection of the blood, and acute pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs, likely from vomiting and breathing the vomit into his lungs.
Fast-forwarding the video “deprived the jury of an ability to appreciate the actual condition and treatment of Raymond Silverfox in the RCMP cell,” Veale’s decision states. “The jury was unable to fully consider the evidence and the Silverfox family was denied any opportunity to communicate its views of the case and of the evidence. In these circumstances, I have no choice but to quash the jury’s verdict that Mr. Silverfox’s death was from natural causes.”
Just because there is a medical explanation for Silverfox’s death doesn’t mean his death was “natural,” Veale explains in his decision. Medical treatment may have saved his life.
The Silverfox family complained that the RCMP investigated itself during the lead-up to the inquest. Veale acknowledged this was true, but he did not take issue with this point because the investigation was conducted by members outside the Yukon.
The case could now return to the courts for a rehearing, but out of respect for the family, Veale suggests it shouldn’t.
“It would be perverse to put (the family) through this painful process again,” Veale said in his decision. “The record of this case consisting of all of the evidence has been made public and changes to RCMP policies have been implemented. It is unnecessary to repeat the process.”
For Deanna Lee Charlie, Silverfox’s 24-year-old daughter, this decision marks the end of a long, hard journey. Upon hearing the news of Veale’s decision for the first time, the young woman broke down in tears.
“It feels great,” she said, sobbing.
“From the beginning to the end, it’s been almost four years since my dad passed away, and I kept my promise to my dad, and to myself, that I would get justice.
“I’m just overjoyed. I’m very emotional. It’s been hard, it’s very hard – all the pain and hurt I went through, and to hear all the stuff that I heard in that courtroom. It’s hard to hear that happened to your father. But I did not give up.
“It made me a stronger person to fight for him and I believe my dad gave me strength and courage to get through it. For me, it stops here. Hopefully nothing like what happened to my dad will happen to anyone else.
“I am very honoured to have done this. I would like to thank my lawyer, my family and friends and the whole Yukon who supported and believed in me to get justice for my dad. Nothing can ever break the bond between this daughter and her father. My dad’s legacy will still remain and will never be forgotten.”
Charlie was reached in Victoria, B.C. where she is studying to become a nurse.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at