Manitoba inquest exposes repeated failures to fix substandard policing in Indigenous communities

Inquest exposes substandard policing standards in Manitoba communities

Cara McKenna
APTN National News
The inquest into the death of a northern Manitoba First Nations man who suffered heart failure while he was crammed in a tiny holding cell has exposed repeated failures to fix substandard policing in Indigenous communities.

Brian McPherson, 44, a diabetic, died during a series of incidents involving untrained or insufficiently trained police officers and an inadequate jail in the Garden Hill First Nation, Man., in 2011.

An inquiry into his death began in October 2013 in Garden Hill and ended last June in Winnipeg.

The inquest report, released Friday, condemns the provincial and federal governments for continually failing to adequately fund and standardize First Nations policing despite a number of other previous inquest reports and studies suggesting changes.

Manitoba Provincial Court Judge Malcolm McDonald has made 12 recommendations that mostly focus around fixing inadequate funding to First Nations police services and establishing proper facilities, training and safety measures.

The inquest heard that Garden Hill was operating an unauthorized jail and Ottawa had cut funding for its band constable program shortly before McPherson’s death because the community failed to provide a proper financial audit.

In 2006, Garden Hill had also applied to a federal-provincial First Nations police force program that was the remote community’s only viable option. It was denied.

On the night of his death in late August, McPherson and a number of other people were gathered at a home in Garden Hill, which is designated as a dry community.

The inquest heard band Coun. Wayne Harper ordered Garden Hill’s Const. Shannon Beardy and three untrained volunteer assistants to go inside and arrest anyone who had “superjuice” – a potent home brew that is common in remote communities.

Beardy and one of the volunteer police assistants, Douglas Flett, testified that they did not think anyone was causing problems and would not have detained anyone if not for the order.

Beardy also told the inquest that she was given no training prior to starting as constable in 2011, and that she quit her job the next year because she was always angry.

That night, as many as 30 people were held at Garden Hill’s public safety building, with McPherson and at least seven others packed into a tiny cell.

The inquest heard that the cell block was run down, had no bedding and was only about nine square metres in size. Cardboard and duct tape covered the windows so no one could see inside.

Three guards on duty had as little as 20 minutes of training before handling prisoners and could only see inside the cells through low-res black and white video monitors that didn’t transmit sound.

McPherson was found dead the next morning by another prisoner, though the inquest report acknowledges that he likely would have died that night regardless of where he was.

He left behind two children and his partner Ann Monias, who described McPherson as a gentle character who had ongoing health problems.

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