The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) is calling for justice, accountability, an inquest and a higher level of oversight in the aftermath of the RCMP’s shooting of a Wet’suwet’en man in Campbell River, B.C.
The province’s police oversight body says they will complete a thorough, fair investigation and is open to an Indigenous monitor.
In a press release on July 13, Indigenous leaders expressed outrage over what they call dehumanized treatment of Jared Lowndes by police and media.
FNLC includes B.C. Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN), Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) and First Nations Summit.
They question the RCMP actions that they said did not attempt to de-escalate a situation that left a 38-year-old father of two dead.
BCAFN Regional Chief Terry Teegee condemned the violence and called for change.
Teegee has been vocal in speaking about systemic racism as multiple Indigenous men have died in police custody in Prince George in recent years, including Patrick Aleck and Dale Culver.
“This ongoing cycle of violence, neglect, abuse, deaths and murder is fueled by enforcers who are racist and full of hate for Indigenous peoples and who are wrongfully entrusted by the colonial Canadian state to implement unjust laws and policies,” he said in the statement.
According to a police report, Lowndes failed to stop when officers try to pull him over for an outstanding warrant.
Officers then spotted Lowndes’ vehicle at a Tim Horton’s, and RCMP vehicles boxed him in.
A confrontation occurred with an RCMP officer and police dog.
The police dog was fatally stabbed, and the officer suffered knife wounds.
Lowndes was shot and pronounced dead at the scene.
There is now an investigation by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIO).
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the UBCIC, stated that media outlets focused their attention to the police service dog’s death rather than Lowndes’.
“We mourn the loss of another cherished Indigenous life that was needlessly taken at the all too ready hands of police. Jared Lowndes endured unchecked racism, violence, sexual and physical abuse, and mistreatment from the foster and criminal justice systems throughout his life. He deserves to have his name spoken out loud and his life remembered – that a dog would receive more news coverage and be prioritized over his life is unspeakable and unconscionable,” he stated.
In Campbell River, a memorial for Lowndes was outside the Tim Horton’s by his family, including his two daughters but was torn down and trampled over the weekend, according to family members.
Phillip expressed disappointment with the IIO.
“I remember when it came into existence, and there was this great hope that finally, we had an arbitrator that would render fair, unbiased decisions, protecting the civil human rights of Indigenous people, but that hasn’t happened, it’s been a dismal failure,” he stated. “They simply rubber stamp any position of police agencies.”
The IIO is a civilian-led police oversight body responsible for investigating incidents of death or serious harm that may have been the results of the actions of a police officer on or off duty.
It was in 2012 the oversight body was established, IIO chief civilian director Ron McDonald said in a phone interview with APTN News.
“It’s run by myself, a person who has never been a member of a police force. I have been a lawyer for almost 36 years, all of it the criminal justice system.”
Most of McDonald’s career has been in Nova Scotia, where he started the Serious Incident Response Team and was the director, which is similar to the IIO. He shared the oversight process.
“Our goal is to conduct independent, thorough and complete investigations. At the end of an investigation, we determine whether or not the actions of police were justified. We find if they were justified, we write a public report to tell the public what we found happened and the reason for our decision,” he said.
“If we find the reasons for police were not justified we sent the matter to the crown for the consideration of charges.”
McDonald said they are unable to comment on shooting in Campbell River at the moment.
“That may occur in a while we can give some factual updates, but however that may occur in a little while,” he stated. “However, at this point in time, we don’t want to release facts as doing so could impact the memories and statements of witnesses who we haven’t spoken to.”
The statement from the FNLC asked for the IIO to appoint an Indigenous investigator and Indigenous monitor in the Lowndes investigation.
McDonald said he has not talked with the leadership council at this point, but they have been working with the Lowndes family.
“We have been working with the family throughout this investigation and one of the things we have discussed with them and their community is that we are prepared to consider some form of civilian monitor or community liaison in this matter,” he said.
He also expressed that the current legislation has limits the oversight body is trying to work through.
“Right now, our legislation is basically silent on ways to liaise with Indigenous communities in our investigations and it does not permit us to appoint an Indigenous investigator,” he stated.
“The civilian monitor program has been considered by me in the past in a case involving shooting of Indigenous person it, unfortunately, doesn’t fit what need that well and that statement comes to our discussions with the community.”
In 2020, B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general released a statement on reforming the Police Act in the province to acknowledging systemic racism and the need to modernize.
“We also recognize that police officers require a modern policing structure that provides greater clarity for their roles. Expectations on front-line police responders have grown and our policing and public safety model needs to reflect communities’ current and future needs.”
A special committee was formed, but there has yet to be an update on the police act.
McDonald is open to finding a better way to engage.
“We are certainly prepared to consider some way to engage with the community on this file.”
McDonald said the IIO said it is willing to listen to criticism.
“On all of our cases of significance where we found charges not be referred to the Crown for consideration would have been written up in our public report, and if anyone had concerns, I would certainly be prepared to discuss them on those particular cases,” he shared.
He pointed highlighted the case in Prince George where the IIO has recommended charges against officers in the death of the 35-year-old father Dale Culver.
“Of course, there have been cases involving Indigenous person who has been referred to the crown one, in fact, is awaiting trial in Prince George.”
The IIO anticipates this recent fatal shooting investigation in Campbell River will last a few months.