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In-custody deaths of Indigenous people in B.C. highlighted on new website

A group of concerned citizens and community activists have created a website to shine a spotlight on the issue of in-custody deaths of Indigenous British Columbians – and the roadblocks to accessing information about them from police agencies and the BC Coroner’s Service.

At a Tuesday morning news conference, writer Leonard Cler-Cunningham explained that the site is called ‘Not in the Public Interest’ because that is so often the reason cited when his requests for documents under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act are rejected.

"In a province that legally affirms not only do First Nations lives not matter, it's an issue people in B.C. don't care about,” said Cler-Cunningham. “I think they're wrong and in fact, I know they are."

According to a report from the BC Coroner’s Service, between 2013 and 2017 127 people died during or within 24 hours following contact with police.

Although Indigenous people make up just six percent of the overall population, they account for 20 percent of those deaths.

"This 'not in the public interest' is a formal criteria. It's not only utilized in the provision of releasing documents but to prosecute or not charge any police. It's a systemic tool,” said Mariam Zohra Durrani, a contributor to the project.

The website contains pictures, videos and links to other source materials such as police reports and court documents which the producers were able to get their hands on.

The plan is for the website to highlight a total of 47 stories spanning 1967 until 2007.

It will also include some stories of deaths that do not involve police custody but which Cler-Cunningham believes are suspicious but were not adequately investigated.

One of those is the story of Rose Marie Roper, a 19-year-old First Nations woman killed in Williams Lake in 1967.

She had been drinking in a bar and accepted a ride home with three men.

Her body was found near the garbage dump the next day and her neck had been broken.

According to BC Court of Appeal documents, the three men were initially charged with manslaughter but one was acquitted and two were found guilty of assault and ordered to pay a $200 fine.

Roper’s story is one of three currently live on the site.

The other two are about men who died in the BC interior after interactions with RCMP in the 1970s.

"Just because you've got a badge, that doesn't mean you get a best-before date for committing a crime,” Cler-Cunningham said about his motivation for including historical cases on the site.

More stories will be added over time, including more recent examples of Indigenous deaths in police custody. Top Stories

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