Home / BCCLA, Pivot Legal Society, #Justice for Jared, The Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the family of Haida Elder Jimmie Johannesson Announce Calls to Action five months after Surrey RCMP Fatality

BCCLA, Pivot Legal Society, #Justice for Jared, The Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the family of Haida Elder Jimmie Johannesson Announce Calls to Action five months after Surrey RCMP Fatality

(Unceded territories of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Stz’uminus, Sto:lo, and Tsawwassen First Nations/Surrey, B.C.) A coalition of advocates is coming together today to mark the 5-month anniversary of Jimmie Johannesson’s death and to join Jimmie’s sister Ruby Marks in demanding that BC and Canada urgently reform policing.

On the morning of April 8, 2022, at approximately 10:00 am, multiple Surrey RCMP officers attended the home of Haida Elder Jimmie Johannesson. Elder Jimmie called police that morning out of concern that he was a danger to himself. In response to this Elder’s call for help, the Emergency Response Team (whose officers wear military-style uniforms) and armed RCMP Officers were dispatched and surrounded his home. The RCMP’s lack of training around mental health, de-escalation and safe disarming techniques then saw them opening fire in his home where he was shot in the arm, leg, and twice in the heart. What began as a desperate cry for help ended in a senseless tragedy at the hands of the state when Jimmie was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The violent actions of the Surrey RCMP led to the state-justified murder of a beloved Elder. These murders are a part of the vicious reality of policing in Canada—a system that targets Black, Indigenous & racialized community members.  The chronic and systemic nature of this devastating reality was manifested again on August 22, 2022 when Chris Amyotte, an Ojibway father and grandfather, was in extreme distress and crying for help when he was killed by the Vancouver Police.

“As Indigenous people, communities of First Nations people, we have lost faith in the police and the IIO. These systems will attempt to prove beyond a doubt that Elder Jimmie Johannesson was a danger to the public when in fact the public needs to be protected from the police forces who shoot to kill with impunity. These one-sided systems are built on half-truths and the bodies of First Nations family members and need a complete overhaul. In this time of “reconciliation” we must rebuild all systems that harm, maim and murder Indigenous people. Our hearts go out to Elder Jimmie’s family, friends and community.”  – Laura Holland, Founder of Justice for Jared

Despite the RCMP indicating the BC Independent Investigations Office (IIO) was investigating the murder of the previously unidentified man, Jimmie Johannesson’s friends and family continue to wait for justice.

“The ongoing racist treatment at the hands of police disproportionately follows Indigenous people from cradle to grave. This systemic racism and violence includes land theft and dispossession, the theft of children from their families by way of residential school, the 60’s scoop and now the child welfare system and ultimately ends in incarceration. The last time Jimmie saw his siblings was at the hospital when he was born. His sister, Elder Ruby Marks, remembers their mom holding him up to a window in the hospital. She didn’t see him again until she was in her twenties. Jimmie’s life shows how the child welfare system deliberately displaces and disenfranchises Indigenous people, creating a continuum of colonial harm from foster homes to the criminal justice system.” – Mara Selanders, Staff Counsel at BC Civil Liberties Association

While governments prioritize half-measures and incremental change, the caseload of the IIO has doubled over the past two years and people continue to needlessly die by police hands. Police oversight agencies remain ineffective in holding police accountable; fewer than 10% of police watchdog investigations in Canada end in charges against officers, and the IIO rarely refers cases to Crown Counsel for consideration of charges. [1]

Furthermore, agencies like the IIO lack Indigenous leadership, cultural oversight, and cultural safety and protections for victims, survivors, and families in the aftermath of police violence and state-sanctioned murder.

“Jimmie’s family and the family of Jared Lowndes have come together to announce the following calls to action to put an end to police brutality and systemic racism in policing in Canada,” says Meenakshi Mannoe, Criminalization and Policing Campaigner with Pivot Legal Society. “Indigenous, Black and racialized families across so-called Canada have united, calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism in policing in Canada.  The surviving families have been clear: recommendations are not enough. Promises of incremental change have led to an entrenched system of policing that prioritizes budgets over wellness and safety. Advocates have been clear – in order to end the harm of police-based wellness checks, we must decisively defund the police and invest in community, mental health professionals, and peer-based crisis response. We call on our municipal, provincial, and federal government to dismantle current policing mandates and reimagine community safety. You cannot remedy systemic racism and police brutality with more policing.”

The coalition of advocates is supporting Ruby Marks in her calls for these immediate changes to policing:

Calls to Action

1. Wellness Checks 

  • Eliminate police officer involvement in wellness checks. Reallocate resources to a peer-led mental health emergency response team trained in de-escalation and professional mental health professions whose practices are rooted in and informed by the community, all while prioritizing crisis support and care for the distressed person or family

2. Police Services

  • Implement the recommendations of the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, per UBCIC Resolution 2022-26
  • Establish a civilian traffic and bylaw services division. Armed and uniformed police are unnecessary for traffic-related offences, especially given that police are more likely to stop Black and Indigenous people for traffic infractions and many of those infractions escalate and end in murder.
  • End police checks. The practice of police conducting street checks outside of an investigation is discriminatory and violates people’s privacy, exposing them to further surveillance and potential criminalization.
  • Establish explicit, sanction-backed legal duties for police to cooperate with IIO investigations and for police and the IIO to safeguard evidence.

3. Indigenous Justice

  • Implement the Calls to Action report released by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
  • Implement the National Indigenous Justice Summit’s Immediate Action Plan
  • UBCIC has previously called for a robust National Indigenous Justice Strategy; these recent and ongoing actions indicate this is still sorely needed

4. Independent Investigations Office

  • Appoint an Indigenous Civilian Monitor, or a separate board of Indigenous Civilian Monitors, to oversee each investigation where an Indigenous person is identified as a victim or affected party in an incident of death, serious harm, or reportable injury
  • Recruit Black and Indigenous investigators with knowledge of the lived experiences of these racialized communities

5. Use of Force/Militarization

  • Restrict firearm possession to a small percentage (<5%) composed of specifically and highly trained officers
  • Each municipal police force, in addition to regional RCMP detachments, are to establish a public database of use of force statistics and mandate a quarterly community review and audit of each use of force incident
  • End the training, use and abuse of police K9 units
  • Implement a mandatory policy for police body cameras to be worn by every municipal, provincial, and federal police member, at all times, while on duty. We recommend that the individual officers are unable to turn their cameras on and off on their own.
  • Demilitarize the police. Use of tactical police units in Canada has grown by 2000% since 1980, with services increasingly used for routine activities such as executing warrants, traffic enforcement, community policing and responding to mental health crises and domestic disturbances.[2]  Eliminate funding for and donations of militarized equipment, such as assault rifles and Tactical Armoured Vehicles[3], and any training or education in surveillance or military force tactics that harm community

Read the letter sent today on behalf of Ruby Marks, Laura Holland, Pivot Legal and the BCCLA.

[1] Annual Reports of the IIO indicate the following: 94 investigations resulted in 12 referrals in 2021-2022, 104 investigations resulted in 8 referrals in 2020-2021 and 193 investigations resulted in 6 referrals in 2019-2020.

[2] https://theconversation.com/rise-of-the-swat-team-routine-police-work-in-canada-is-now-militarized-90073

[3] https://thetyee.ca/News/2020/06/23/Canadas-Military-Gave-2000-Assault-Rifles-To-Police/; https://nationalpost.com/pmn/news-pmn/canada-news-pmn/canadas-militarized-police-forces-face-defunding-and-de-tasking-experts-say