RCMP officers involved in the arrest and detention of Raymond Silverfox need to be investigated for possible misconduct, said Paul Kennedy, chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, an Ottawa-based RCMP watchdog.
Kennedy initiated the complaint against the RCMP on Monday.
The investigation has not begun. But it will not be independent and will be conducted by an officer appointed by the RCMP to investigate on the commission’s behalf, noted its spokesman Nelson Kalil.
“It’s not a perfect system, obviously, and there are a lot of concerns about the police investigating themselves,” said Kalil. “I look at this (investigation) as part of that problem.”
Nationwide, the commission is conducting a larger investigation into scenarios of “police investigating the police,” he said.
Silverfox died in police custody on December 2 after being held in RCMP cells for more than 13 hours. He had been arrested at the Salvation Army shelter at 5 a.m. for “disturbing the peace.”
In the RCMP’s 2006 annual report on in-custody deaths, it noted that more than “70 per cent of in-custody death subjects were using alcohol and/or drugs at the time of their apprehension.”
For many, “the effects of alcohol and/or drug abuse compound pre-existing medical conditions with lethal results,” said the report.
Initial coroner findings suggest Silverfox probably died from “something in the lungs.”
The chair of the complaints commission has long had concerns about in-custody deaths, said Kalil.
“This has been ongoing for a while,” he noted.
The Silverfox case has prompted the commission to also call for an investigation into nationwide RCMP procedures “regarding medical treatment to persons detained in custody” — particularly related to detainees that are intoxicated at the time of their arrest.”
“This is the best mechanism for (the commission) to undertake this kind of study,” said Kalil. “We’re linking to this specific case, but at the same time it permits (us) to examine this larger history of in-custody deaths.”
In 2000, Fred Stewart died in Whitehorse RCMP custody from acute alcohol poisoning. Later that year, Whitehorse resident Madeleine Henry died of complications from pneumonia after more than 12 hours in custody.
There should be a full public inquiry into RCMP policy and conduct surrounding a 10-year rash of in-custody deaths and alleged assaults, said NDP MLA John Edzerza last week.
Society is witnessing “systemic prejudice” on the part of the RCMP in regards to intoxicated people of First Nation ancestry, Edzerza told the legislature recently.
Four aboriginal people, including Silverfox, have died in RCMP custody since 1999.
RCMP Investigations into Silverfox’s death are seen as “secret,” said Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough in the legislature on Monday.
“Yukoners want any death while in custody to be investigated openly and transparently,” said Fairclough.
“If there was something wrong with this particular case, then it has to be aired publicly and the matter discussed,” he said.
Silverfox’s First Nation, the Kwanlin Dun, refused comment for this story.
Contact Tristin Hopper at firstname.lastname@example.org