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Police review draws criticism from the community

The RCMP need better training, says Debbie Silverfox. She's the sister of the late Raymond Silverfox, who died after being held in a Whitehorse police drunk tank in 2008.

The RCMP need better training, says Debbie Silverfox.

She’s the sister of the late Raymond Silverfox, who died after being held in a Whitehorse police drunk tank in 2008. An inquest discovered guards had mocked him, denied him a mat to sleep on and left him in his own filth for 13 hours during which he vomited 26 times without receiving any medical attention. He was pronounced dead two hours later.

“In any given training - even a secretary - you need at least 10 months,” said Debbie. “With the RCMP, you only need six months.

“They need more education and better selection when training guys (at the RCMP depot). The biggest thing is dealing with cross cultural issues and people on the street.”

She’d specifically like to see more sensitivity towards First Nation people.

Silverfox attended a public review of the Yukon’s police force Thursday evening with her family by her side.

The review was organized by the government following strong public criticism to the Silverfox case and two other high-profile incidents involving RCMP officers in the last year.

In the spring, two RCMP officers in Watson Lake were tried for rape and found innocent while a second man, Robert Stone, died in detox this May.

The RCMP wants to change its relationship with Yukoners in light of these events, said RCMP Supt. Peter Clark, who co-chaired the event Thursday evening.

Silverfox said she will only believe the change when she sees it.

“I don’t have much trust in the process,” she said following the event.

“It seems like all talk and no action.”

Inquests like this have been done in the past and nothing was done with that information, said Silverfox, referring to a task force that investigated the death of Madeleine Henry who died in the RCMP’s drunk tank in 2002.

The turnout for Thursday night’s event was lower than expected.

“I don’t think they advertised this properly,” said the Silverfox family’s lawyer Susanna Roothman.

By comparison, the government’s distracted driving campaign had flyers delivered to everyone’s mailbox, she said.

The event was also re-scheduled twice due to the recent death of Yukon RCMP officer Michael Potvin.

“A lot of people didn’t know about this,” said one woman who chose not use her name.

She learned about the session an hour before it started. “I guess that’s just part of the plan.”

About 50 people attended the event. Partway through the evening, city councillor Florence Roberts asked who was attending just as a citizen and not for work. Only half the people in the audience raised their hands.

“There’s a few people here, but it’s mostly the boys of justice,” said Debbie Silverfox.

Also, the format of the review, which allowed for written comments and questions to the panel, wasn’t seen as effective by some people.

“People left because they weren’t comfortable with the meeting, while I know of another person who left because they were very emotional,” said Kevin Barr.

“We need support people at these events so that people feel safe.”

Others left for more practical reasons.

“I saw half a dozen people leave the forum because of literacy issues,” said Essentielles director Ketsia Houde.

The first hour of the night involved people reading and writing down answers to questions such as, “What concerns do you have with the policing service you receive?” and “What changes would you recommend to improve the policing service in Yukon?”

However, the questions didn’t address specific events in the Yukon.

“I’m betting 90 per cent of the people here don’t have regular dealings with the RCMP,” said one attendee.

“The real question should be, what concerns do you have in light of Raymond Silverfox, Robert Stone, Watson Lake and the Tasering at the Vancouver airport?”

“The real reason we’re here is because of incidents that have happened in the last six months.”

A lack of training for cops working in northern communities and with First Nation people was mentioned several times during the evening.

So too were the incidences of racial profiling and intimidation tactics used by officers.

Others noted the injustice of officers with criminal records still serving on the force.

“I heard there are members of the RCMP who have been convicted of sexual assault and are still currently working for the RCMP,” said Status of Women director Charlotte Hrenchuk.

“Are there RCMP officers serving in Canada who have been convicted of sexual assault? I don’t know, but I would think there probably is,” said Clark. “And I would think there are probably officers who have appeared before (an RCMP) tribunal and been fired.”

When asked whether there are officers in the Yukon specifically who have been convicted of sexual assault, Clark wouldn’t answer, “on the basis that it would invade (officers’) privacy.”

“If they’ve been charged it would be on the public record,” he said.

That answer shouldn’t inspire any trust in a woman living in this community, said Hrenchuk.

“I don’t know how someone who’s been convicted of sexual assault can serve and protect.”

The practice of cops investigating cops was also criticized .

Currently, if an RCMP officer has been implicated in a crime, an outside RCMP officer or policeman will investigate the case.

That process is unacceptable, Clark conceded.

“Mounted Police should not be investigating Mounted Police.”

There is a new law being considered in Ottawa that would ban any police from investigating each other, he said.

“If passed it will get rid of that blue-on-blue perception.”

Clark was satisfied with the way the meeting went, he said.

The committee has heard frank and honest stories from the community, some of which have “horrified” him, he said.

He’s hopeful relationships between Yukoners and RCMP can be rebuilt, particularly First Nation people.

“I don’t think there’s a quick fix to improving the relationship between the First Nations and the RCMP, but I don’t think all parts of that relationship have been broken.

“Certainly some parts of it are cracked and that’s what’s coming forward in this review: that we need to do it better.”

Contact Vivian Belik at