Accountability and law enforcement – First Nations Perspectives from Northern BC
Preston Guno, Nisga’a Nation, Carrier Sekani Family Services gave the following speech on November 13 2012, at the Pivot Legal Society panel at SFU, entitled, “What is the state of police accountability in BC?”
In terms of this new police oversight Independent Investigations Office in the north we are cautiously optimistic. We understand the importance of oversight but it has to be something that has legitimacy; that can be reached and accessed in the far north, in rural communities. We understand there is an office open in Surrey and that’s a step in the right direction but we need to have access to that in the rural communities.
We need to look back at the relationship between police and Aboriginal people. Will this office be accessible to First Nations in the north? Will this office stand up for First Nations when they are in conflict with and harmed by the RCMP?
There are a number of incidents that have framed this foundation of distrust between First Nations and law enforcement in the north. One of the most infamous cases involving law enforcement and the judicial system was the former Provincial Judge David Ramsay. In 2004 he was found guilty of sexually abusing Aboriginal girls as young as 12 years old. This is unresolved in Prince George, I can assure you that. There were at least two RCMP officers implicated in abuses similar to the ones Ramsay was found guilty of. There was a lot of work done to bring these officers to justice only to be told that due to a technicality in the Police Act, they will not pursue any further accountability with those officers.
If we are looking to an oversight body that has a provincial focus, we think it is very important you need to be in the north and hear from the community itself.
We in the community feel there is an escalated level of force being used on children. In 2001 there is a well-documented case of an 11-year-old boy being tasered in a group home. In 2012, this year, within an 8-month time span, police dogs were deployed on Aboriginal children in the city there, with one of the children receiving hospitalization as a result.
It’s disturbing that the mandate of this office needs cause of death or serious harm. There’s a lot of grey areas in this definition and we should look at expanding this definition to include these types of incidents as serious incidents. Otherwise we will be relying on the current situation which, to be frank, is failing the First Nations in terms of a complaints process.
The discussion in the north requires northern representation. If you want to adequately represent your office with the north, we think rather than have experts on Aboriginal people you have First Nations that are experts on their own communities involved in the process.