Watchdog asks if racism played role in aboriginal man's in-custody death
A complaint about the in-custody death of a First Nations man in Prince George, B.C. last summer is raising questions about the Mounties’ account of what happened and whether racism played a role.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has written to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, asking the agency to ensure there’s a transparent and independent investigation into the death of Dale Culver.
“We’re hopeful they’ll look into allegations of very serious misconduct against RCMP members in Prince George,” BCCLA executive director Josh Paterson told CTV News.
Culver, a 35-year-old Wet’suwet’en father of three, was taken down by officers on July 18, 2017 after a struggle. Officers deployed pepper spray and placed him in a police car, where he stopped breathing. Culver died in hospital.
The police account the next day said Prince George RCMP received a report that a man was “casing vehicles” in a parking lot that evening, and tracked Culver down.
But the BCCLA complaint says that “casing vehicles” report may have come in long before the arrest – raising the question about whether Culver was even the man officers were looking for.
“We understand that the call to police about a suspect potentially “casing out” vehicles may have been received several hours prior to the police interaction with Mr. Culver that resulted in his death. Regardless, we question on what information or basis the member or members of the RCMP began their interaction or questioning of Mr. Culver, and/or a request to identify himself in the first place,” the complaint reads.
“This tragic incident, as it has been described, gives rise to a question as to whether the RCMP members’ actions may have been affected by explicit or implicit racial bias,” the complaint says.
The RCMP didn’t answer questions from CTV News on the case today, referring only to their previous press release.
Those who knew Culver say he struggled with alcoholism, but worked in the forestry industry and was trying to turn his life around.
“I think when a person is arrested, I don’t think they should end up dead,” said Terry Teegee, a regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.
Culver’s death has left a 14-year-old daughter, a 6-year-old son, and a baby fatherless, said his cousin Debbie Pierre.
“This is absolutely devastating to us,” she said. “How he passed has been excruciating for his mother clan and his father clan,” she said.
The possibility that Culver was picked up because he was First Nations is frightening, she said.
“I don’t want (Culver’s) passing to be in vain,” she said. “It could have been anybody. Do we want to see this happen again and again? There needs to be change.”
B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office is also looking into any potential criminal conduct by the RCMP in the case.
The IIO’s Chief Civilian Director wouldn’t answer questions about his investigation into timeline of the “casing vehicles” report or what police knew about Culver before the arrest.
But Ron MacDonald did say that the IIO is still looking into allegations that officers asked passersby to delete cellphone video of the incident.
“Given the nature of those allegations, if proven, they could constitute criminal conduct, so we’ve been investigating that as well,” MacDonald said.
He said the agency is still hoping to hear from any witnesses who may have seen officers delete any videos.
Victor Jim, a hereditary and elected chief of the Wet’suwet’en, told CTV News that there has been prejudice against First Nations people by authorities for “as long as they’ve existed.”
“I think we need to culturally educate the RCMP,” he said. “Lots of them aren’t culturally sensitive, or culturally aware. Lots of racial profiling goes on with our people.”