CBC challenges suppression of Silverfox tapes

Local CBC Radio One journalist Nancy Thomson is taking the Yukon's chief coroner to court.

Local CBC Radio One journalist Nancy Thomson is taking the Yukon’s chief coroner to court.

The national radio station wants copies of the audio and video recordings documenting Raymond Silverfox’s last hours, before he died in police custody in December 2008.

This spring, during an inquest into the death of Silverfox, coroner Sharon Hanley “made the controversial decision not to show the full audio and video recordings,” writes Thomson in documents filed in the Yukon Supreme Court on June 30.

The audio and video offer a record of what happened to the 43-year-old Carmacks man from when he was jailed, up to his death after 13 hours in the Whitehorse RCMP drunk tank.

The coroner’s inquest heard evidence some RCMP members and guards ridiculed Silverfox while he lay in his own vomit and excrement.

The inquest also learned no one sought medical help even though Silverfox vomited 26 times while in custody.

When someone noticed Silverfox no longer moving in his cell, he was taken to the hospital, where he later died of acute pneumonia.

“The death of Raymond Silverfox in jail and the allegations of mistreatment by employees leading to his death made Raymond Silverfox’s inquest a matter of significant public interest,” say documents filed by the CBC.

Hanley has the entire 13.5 hours of audio and video documenting Silverfox’s experiences.

But she “made the decision not to let the jury see or hear the entire audio and video, despite its relevance to both the coroner’s jury and the public,” say the documents.

Only portions of the tape were played during the inquest.

It was eventually determined Silverfox died of natural causes.

On May 9, Thomson requested access to the audio and video.

She was played a portion of the tape, but it was poor quality and was not suitable for public broadcast.

Further requests were denied. And the only segment of audio and video later made available was not for public broadcast, according to court documents.

But Hanley failed to prove the release of the recordings would threaten the administration of justice, and the CBC is calling on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in its affidavit.

The broadcasting company is also supported by the Silverfox family in its request for the tapes.

“Myself and the other surviving members of my family were initially reluctant with respect to parts of the video,” writes Silverfox’s sister Deborah Ann in her affidavit.

“But we have now come to the conclusion that it is more important that the Yukon public be made aware of the gravity of Raymond’s suffering and treatment in the hours before he died, in hopes it will bring about better public understanding of the circumstances and much-needed changes to avoid similar tragedies in the future.”

No date has been scheduled for the case.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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