BCCLA, UBCIC & VATJS travel to Prince Rupert to listen to families’ deep concerns with RCMP investigations

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PRINCE RUPERT, Tsimshian Territories – The Union of BC Indian Chiefs, the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society travelled to Prince Rupert today to meet with families of young First Nations people whose suspicious deaths remain unsolved. The families say that the deaths of their family members have not been sufficiently investigated by the RCMP.

On March 4, Justin Brooks, a 21-year-old Indigenous man living in Prince Rupert, was found dead under mysterious circumstances on the shore near the city’s downtown. Apparently, Mr. Brooks had been in a fight the same evening as his death. A coroner’s report indicates that his cause of death was drowning, but there is so far no conclusion as to how Mr. Brooks ended up in the water or whether his death was connected in any way to the fight earlier that evening. While the RCMP indicate that their investigation is ongoing, the Brooks family is concerned about the way the investigation is proceeding. The family says that RCMP officers who visited them seemed to blame Justin’s death on him, suggesting that he may have committed suicide, or tripped into the water. They say that the police returned their son’s bloodied clothing to the family instead of keeping it as evidence. The family also say they were denied the ability to view Justin’s body and the condition that he was in after he was found.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs stated: “The relationship between many First Nations communities and the RCMP is broken. Time and time again, RCMP action and inaction has made our people feel they cannot rely on them for help and that they will not be treated fairly. The RCMP have not paid enough attention to violent crimes against our people, whether along the infamous Highway of Tears or the many unsolved deaths of women and men throughout the north. We question why the RCMP are so quick to dismiss the suspicious death of Justin Brooks as a suicide or as an accident. We are deeply concerned as to how casually the RCMP approach their investigations when a First Nations person is killed.”

Justin Brooks’ death follows the unsolved deaths of a 15-year-old Indigenous woman at the same park in 2003, Kayla Rose McKay, and a 14-year-old Indigenous woman Emmalee Rose Mclean in 2010 on Prince Rupert’s shore.

Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association added: “There is clearly a problem in BC when First Nations families and communities are unable to place their faith in law enforcement either to protect them, or to properly investigate crimes committed against them. Across the north we have heard from many First Nations communities that police treat them poorly compared to non-First Nations communities. The tragedy of missing and murdered women on the Highway of Tears is the most well-known example, but the problem extends well beyond that.”

The BCCLA will spend Friday, May 3 meeting with families of Indigenous people whose deaths remain unsolved. The BCCLA will also seek a meeting with the local RCMP. There will be a vigil in memory of the victims on Saturday, May 4 at 8pm at the Prince Rupert’s Rotary Waterfront Park.