First Nation police could replace RCMP

Yukon First Nations may create their own form of law enforcement if substantial changes are not made to the RCMP.

Yukon First Nations may create their own form of law enforcement if substantial changes are not made to the RCMP.

Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie made this threat in a three-page letter to RCMP and Justice Minister Marian Horne. (See page 8)

“As self-governing Yukon First Nations, we have the ability to exercise our authority within our self-government agreements to establish law enforcement agencies to police our citizens and communities and displace the role of the RCMP,” she said.

“If the RCMP are not willing to work with us in a meaningful way and we continue to have ongoing issues, why would we allow them to continue to provide police services in the Yukon?”

The letter came in response to the recent coroner’s inquest into the death of Raymond Silverfox.

Silverfox, a member of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, died on December 2, 2008 after over 13 hours in police custody.

The 43-year-old man vomited 26 times and was mocked by police officers and guards while he rolled around the floor in pain. He later died of pneumonia and blood poisoning after inhaling his own vomit.

“We are shocked, horrified and outraged by the circumstances surrounding his death and feel betrayed by the RCMP,” said Massie.

“Unfortunately, it is the experience of many of our citizens and communities that the attitudes and conduct of the RCMP members in this case is neither isolated nor unusual.”

Massie doubts police will learn anything from Silverfox’s death, or make meaningful changes to its practices and procedures.

The underlying issue, said Massie, is racist attitudes and cultural stereotyping when RCMP deal with First Nation people.

She would like police and government to commit to working with First Nations right away and making institutional changes within the Yukon RCMP to ensure oversight and accountability.

This is the only way to restore trust in the RCMP, said Massie.

“It is about treating people with dignity and respect and carrying out policing duties in an honourable manner.”

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is still investigating Silverfox’s death.

The commission monitored the coroner’s inquest that took place two weeks ago to see whether any of the testimony given would influence its recommendations.

It is now preparing an interim report, which will then be sent to the RCMP Commissioner and Minister of Public Safety.

This interim report should be completed sometime this summer.

Police and government will then have to reply to the commission, laying out what actions will be taken to prevent similar deaths in the future.

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