*Update* BCCLA calls for appointment of special prosecutor in Robert Wright case.
The Wright case was one of three instances of injury in Northern BC highlighted by the BCCLA in a press release this summer. The New Westminister Police Department has recommended laying charges in this case; making Robert Wright’s the second of the three cases which have substantiated the claims of the complainants . Read more here.
The BCCLA says three families who called the RCMP for assistance with family members over a five week period are now coping with major injuries caused during the RCMP intervention. The injured include a 15 year old girl in Prince Rupert whose arm was broken by an RCMP officer; Robert Wright who suffered a serious head and brain injury while in Terrace RCMP cells after his wife called police out of concern for his safety; and, William Watts, who received serious head injuries in Terrace when he was arrested after calling police for assistance with his sister.
Two of the incidents are being investigated by outside police forces, one by an outside RCMP detachment. All of the injured, and their families, are First Nations, and all live in the northwest corner of BC.
“We are deeply concerned that one incident requiring independent investigation by an outside police force would take place in a five week period in this sparsely populated area, let alone three,” said Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA. “All of the incidents involve families of Aboriginal descent, all called the RCMP for help with a family member, each case resulted in serious injury, and each took place in a specific geographic area over a short period of time. These factors suggest to us that there is a serious systemic problem.”
Non-RCMP municipal police departments in BC, who provide service to 1.29 million people, must report injuries which require medical treatment to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. In all of 2012, they reported 263 incidents, or one incident per 4,900 people annually.
The population served by the RCMP in the neighbouring communities of Terrace (11,794), Kitimat (9,317) and Prince Rupert (13,005) is 34,116. If the current rate of injury holds, the RCMP serving these communities will be involved in 31 serious police-related injuries in the year, a rate of one incident for every 1,100 people, almost five times as high as the serious injury rate for municipal departments in BC.
“These cases can’t be looked at in isolation by investigators, because they are not looked at in isolation by the community,” said Holmes. “No group in society should be afraid that calling the police for help is more likely to result in serious injury for a family member or friend than a peaceful resolution of a problem. Yet many First Nations people have or are developing that view. That’s a systemic problem. Effective policing requires that the RCMP work on training for its officers to prevent these incidents and rebuilding the trust that is so essential to their role. What they’re doing right now isn’t working.”
On April 4, 2012, a 15 year old Indigenous girl’s arm was broken when she was being arrested by an RCMP officer in Prince Rupert after her family called 911 for assistance. Delta Police are investigating.
On April 21, 2012, Robert Wright, a 47 year old Indigenous man taken into custody in Terrace cells after his wife called police for assistance, was taken out of cells by air ambulance with a serious head injury. He has recently come out of the coma he is in, but is seriously brain injured. New Westminster Police are investigating the incident.
On May 15, 2012, William Watts, a 36 year old Indigenous man received multiple head injuries and alleges he was punched after he was handcuffed, subjected to racial taunts, and had his head put in a bag by police. This after he called 911 for assistance with a family member. The BCCLA is calling for an independent investigation of this incident.