The RCMP failed to live up to the “basic standards of human decency,” says a new report into the death of Raymond Silverfox.
The Commission for Pubic Complaints Against the RCMP released its 43-page report yesterday.
It contains 39 findings and 17 recommendations.
The commission is also taking the unprecedented step of setting up a regional complaints office in Whitehorse.
It will be the only one of its kind in the country.
The details of the Silverfox case troubled the commission enough that it launched the complaint that led to this report.
This type of action rarely happens.
Silverfox was arrested for public drunkenness when he became sick at the Whitehorse Salvation Army on December 1, 2008.
He had come to Whitehorse from Carmacks to celebrate his 43rd birthday with his girlfriend.
He would not see another.
For the next 13 hours, Silverfox was locked in a cell, left to lie in his own vomit and excrement while guards and RCMP officers looked on.
They could be heard on tape laughing and making fun of him.
He was finally dragged from the cell after an officer noticed he had stopped breathing.
While the report found Silverfox’s arrest and detention were lawful, the treatment he received in custody violated both RCMP procedures and codes of conduct.
“Although compassion motivated the initial decision to jail Mr. Silverfox, complacency and callousness characterized the remainder of his stay at the Whitehorse detachment,” the report stated.
At a news conference presenting the report, commission spokesperson Jamie Robertson condemned the members’ actions leading up to the death of Raymond Silverfox.
“Simply stated the case of Mr. Raymond Silverfox represented a failure on the part of the RCMP members to provide reasonable care to an individual who was clearly in a state of physical distress,” he said. “His stay descended into callousness and open mockery.”
The report found the duty guards were not properly supervised, and the RCMP’s policy detailing when to provide medical assistance was subjective and inadequate.
An investigation into the in-custody death of Silverfox cleared those involved of any criminal wrongdoing.
The report found that investigation had been conducted reasonably and impartially.
It reached this conclusion even though the investigating officers were not external to the RCMP, and the audio that documented the officers mocking Silverfox as he lay dying in the cell was mysteriously missing.
The report stated the reasons for the missing audio are unknown, and recommended the RCMP appoint an independent investigator to look into it.
It is currently being investigated by the Lethbridge police.
There are several other recommendations that deal with training and supervision of guards.
The RCMP has accepted all of the findings and recommendations detailed in the report.
“We failed you and we failed ourselves,” RCMP Supt. Peter Clark told reporters and family members of Raymond Silverfox.
“Mr. Silverfox deserved much better from us and there is no question that we fell short. We did not live up to your expectations and we did not live up to the standards we have set for ourselves, and for that we apologize.”
While the five officers who were investigated are still employed by the RCMP, they have taken responsibility for their actions and expressed remorse to him personally, said Clark.
“The RCMP has dealt with these employees through the discipline process provided in the RCMP act,” he said.
Clark wouldn’t say what form the discipline took, citing privacy laws.
“It’s not a secret process,” he said. “It’s a process provided in the law, and the RCMP act provides me with the option to administer discipline.
“As in most human resource regimes and privacy laws, the law does not provide me with the opportunity to talk about the details.”
The Siverfox family is still raw with pain and anger following his death.
“I feel like I still need a lot of healing because I really feel angry about what happened,” said Raymond’s sister, Geraldine Silverfox. “There really doesn’t seem to be much discipline with the RCMP.”
The only apology the family had received until now was a prerecorded video message.
While that lacked sincerity, the one delivered by Clark during the news conference seemed genuine, said Leta Blackjack, the deputy chief of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nations, who was also Raymond’s cousin.
“There was some sincerity coming from him as an individual,” she said. “He wants to try to work with the First Nations, and he want his disciplinary actions to make his members accountable to their behaviours.
The commission’s Yukon office is a step in the right direction, said Blackjack.
“At this time, we’re not aware of their processes of how it works, and I think there needs to be public education on that, and how I can lay a complaint,” she said.
Raising awareness is important, said Lorraine Blommaert, who’ll be heading the commission’s Whitehorse office.
She will be personally responsible for every police complaint in the Yukon.
“Whether you complain to the RCMP, or the commission, it will flow through my office,” she said.
Blommaert is one of the commission’s most experienced employees.
With a background as a social worker in the Northwest Territories, she also has experience working in the North.
She’ll be travelling back and forth from Vancouver to Whitehorse every few weeks and, by the end of July, Blommaert hopes to have established a physical presence in the Yukon.
For now she has a cellphone with a Yukon number.
“People can just call us directly and I can usually manage their questions over the phone,” she said.
Contact Josh Kerr at email@example.com