Police on police investigation ‘in the Dark Ages’

Police should not be investigating themselves, says Ontario's ombudsman Andre Marin. "There is a growing realization in Canada that the police should not investigate themselves when they kill or seriously injure civilians,

Police should not be investigating themselves, says Ontario’s ombudsman Andre Marin.

“There is a growing realization in Canada that the police should not investigate themselves when they kill or seriously injure civilians,” wrote Marin in a December piece in the Globe and Mail.

In the Yukon, the RCMP continues to internally investigate the December 2, in-custody death of Whitehorse resident Raymond Silverfox.

NDP MLA John Edzerza, Little Salmon/Carmacks Chief Eddie Skookum, the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation have called for a public inquiry into Silverfox’s death.

Silverfox, 42, likely died of an “abnormality in the lungs” after being held in police custody for more than 13 hours, reported Yukon chief coroner Sharon Hanley. Signs of “medical distress” prompted officers to take him to the Whitehorse General Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

As with three other in-custody deaths that have occurred in the Yukon over the last nine years, the RCMP opted to internally investigate the Silverfox case.

Community backlash prompted the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to initiate a broader investigation of the police officers involved in the incident.

The wider investigation was also to be conducted by RCMP officers.

“It’s not a perfect system, obviously, and there are a lot of concerns about the police investigating themselves,” commission spokesman Nelson Kalil told the News in December.

After a rash of police shootings of criminal suspects in Toronto in the late 1980s, Ontario established the Special Investigations Unit, Canada’s first civilian unit meant to probe incidents in which the police are involved.

At the time, the Toronto community expressed strong concern that internal investigations of the shootings could not be conducted without bias.

“The standard practices that police follow when they are investigating civilians are routinely bent or broken when other police officers are involved, raising suspicions of favouritism,” wrote Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin in November in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Marin was in Winnipeg two weeks ago to assist Manitoba in establishing a body similar to Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit.

The Manitoba government decided to establish the unit after holding a public inquiry into the death of a civilian killed by a police officer in a car crash.

“We’re trying to make the system more sleek and responsive, whereas provinces that have police investigating themselves when there’s a shooting of a civilian are absolutely in the Dark Ages,” wrote Marin in the Free Press.

The Yukon government has refused all efforts to initiate a public inquiry into the death of Silverfox, or the other three in-custody deaths.

“In my dealings with the RCMP, I have found them to be very respectful and professional,” said Justice Minister Marion Horne in the legislature in December.

“The reputation of the RCMP has been dealt many blows in recent years. Providing independent civilian investigation of deaths and serious injuries caused by its officers would be one way to restore some of that lost credibility,” wrote Marin in the Globe and Mail.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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