First Nations leaders in B.C. call for public inquiry after death of Williams Lake First Nations man

The family of Rojun Alphonse say the Williams Lake RCMP are to blame for his death by suicide.

The Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) leaders and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) are calling for a public inquiry into the death of a WLFN man on July 10.

According to the two groups, as well as the family of Rujon Alphonse, the RCMP escalated a distress situation resulting in Alphonse dying by suicide.

“What happened on Sunday, July 10 has significantly impacted our confidence in the system, it has entirely undermined our confidence in the system,” said WLFN Chief Willie Sellers during a press conference on Tuesday.

“If this was a non-Indigenous person, would the result have been the same?”

A press release by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the province’s independent civilian oversight agency, said that officers responded to a report of a man “alleged to be in distress and in possession of weapons” at residence in Williams Lake in the early morning on July 10.

According to the family, a call was placed to the Williams Lake RCMP as they worried about Alphonse’s mental state and concerned he might hurt himself.

But Sellars said instead of receiving a welfare check “with properly trained individuals to de-escalate the situation,” Alphonse was met with “a swarm ERT (Emergency Response Team) personnel with automatic weapons, body armor, armed vehicles, and tear gas.”

Sellars said the situation was further escalated as onlookers posted on social media that the incident was gang-related.

“In the midst of this aggressive and violent confrontation by the RCMP Rujon took his life,” he said.

The chief went on to say the community is mourning Alphonse’s death and demanding answers.

“What is wrong in the system to cause these outcomes and what are we doing about it to see change?…Time and time again, we see this treatment is mistreatment (of) Indigenous peoples in every single one of our communities.”

Family members of Alphonse were also present, including his wife, June North. North tearfully described the 36-year-old as a loving father of four and a hardworking man.

She spoke harshly of the RCMP and its response to what her family considers a distress call.

North noted the RCMP gas-bombed her family’s home with their daughter still inside and put her into an extremely hot car with no AC. She said the RCMP also failed to let their daughter make a phone call despite having the family’s phone numbers, among other things.

“I will never call or trust an RCMP officer with how they responded to a call for help, but (turned it) into a tragedy,” she cried. “The fear of the RCMP will always be there for our daughter and for us all.”

UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Philip called for an investigation into the RCMP’s treatment of Indigenous people and said national reform is desperately needed.

“(The RCMP) have no capacity to have a special mental health team that would go in and work with an individual that’s distress,” he said.

“It’s horrible when we as Indigenous people have to fear the very people that are supposed to protect us, keep us safe, protect our homes.”

As the incident is currently under investigation by the IIO the RCMP is declining to comment further.

Sellars said change is needed so a similar situation never happens again and that Alphonse’s legacy and memory must never be forgotten.

“(He’ll be remembered for) the change he was able to instill in the system so our communities don’t continue to feel the same hurt, see the same anger and experience the same trauma.”

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