Tag Archives: Indigenous

Pressing Questions as Inquest into Police-Involved Death of Indigenous Man Jordan Lafond is Postponed to June

There are many unanswered questions about the role Saskatoon police played in the death of 21-year-old Jordan Lafond of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. An inquest into the death that was scheduled to take begin March 5, 2018, and which family hoped would provide some answers, has now been postponed until June 25.

The questions surrounding Lafond’s death are more pressing given that police initially suggested the injuries that led to Lafond’s death were inflicted in a vehicular crash and did not report that an officer used his knee to subdue the young man when he was handcuffed.

It has been reported publicly that Jordan Lafond died after the stolen truck he was a passenger in crashed into a fence on the outskirts of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in the early morning hours of October 23, 2016. Lafond was taken into custody and later died in hospital. Police have not been forthcoming on their role in Lafond’s death and what they did to him during the arrest.

A six-person jury, five women and one-man, was selected on Monday. Four of the jurors are Indigenous. Three were selected from a special jury pool of Indigenous people and one who self-identified. The request for Indigenous jurors can be made at inquests but not for criminal trials, an issue that has received great attention following the recent not guilty verdicts in the killings of Indigenous youth Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine. The inquest is strictly a fact finding exercise and cannot assign blame or lead to charges being laid.

Grace Lafond-Barr, Jordan’s grandmother expressed the family’s grief: “Emotions have been up and down. A lot of tears, a lot of anger, a lot of sadness. Because we don’t know what happened to Jordan” (quoted in Hamilton 2018). She noted that police were not honest in reporting their actions during Jordan Lafond’s arrest. In her words: “We didn’t hear the truth when we were told of Jordan’s injuries. It would be nice to know what happened to him” (quoted in Hamilton 2018).

Police changed their story about what happened a few weeks after Lafond died. They had initially claimed that Lafond was found underneath a tire of the truck that crashed and said at that time that he died of injuries resulting from that crash. Then-police Chief Clive Weighill alleged that officers believed Lafond was resisting arrest and acknowledged that an officer used his knee to subdue Lafond and that he was handcuffed. Police have not admitted what part that might have played in the death.

Police even had to downgrade the initial charge of dangerous driving causing death laid against the driver of the stolen truck. Said the Crown prosecutor at the time: “We weren’t in a position to prove that the accident—or the collision, in this case—caused the death” (quoted in Hamilton 2018).

Saskatoon Police Service released a statement on March 5 saying that  they had carried out an internal investigation into Lafond’s death but would not release any details or results. There is no police oversight body, independent or otherwise, in Saskatchewan. The officer responsible is still on regular duties.

Jordan Lafond was a new father and worked at a roofing company to support her. Said Lafond-Barr: “Yes maybe he was in a stolen vehicle. But that doesn’t mean you should end his life over it. That’s what I said. I would like to bring some humanity to this (quoted in Hamilton 2018).

Anyone following events in Saskatchewan will note that young Indigenous men have been killed in that province for as little as stepping foot on a farm claimed by a white settler, with the settler farmer getting off despite admitting to the killing. So being killed by police for being in a stolen vehicle would not be unlikely in that context. And the officer involved will likely not even be charged. Jordan Lafond was the same age as Colten Boushie.

 

Further Reading

Hamilton, Charles. 2018. “’Everyone is Disappointed’: Inquest into Death of Jordan Lafond Postponed Until June.” CBC News March 5. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/family-hoping-for-answers-as-inquest-in-jordan-lafond-s-death-begins-1.4559159

 

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Family of Joey Knapaysweet, Cree Youth Killed by Timmins Police, Releases Statement, Calls for Answers

Police in the small northern Ontario city of Timmins, shot and killed 21-year-old Joey Knapaysweet on February 3, 2018. In a context, as is true across Canada, in which police control information about their killings, few details have been provided publicly. Joey Knapaysweet was from the James Bay community of Fort Albany — more than an hour’s flight from Timmins. According to the family statement, he had gone to Timmins to “seek help in dreams for betterment of his life.” On Thursday, February 15, the family released a statement from Fort Albany saying they need answers about why police chose to kill their loved one.

Micheline Knapaysweet expresses her pain:  “I cannot sleep at nights, I need answers. This is my son, my child.” She asks further “What did he do that was so bad that he had to be shot and killed? I am so heartbroken, with so many questions unanswered.”

The Special Investigations Unit, the agency that investigates cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario has only said: “There was an interaction between the man and officers, and one of the officers discharged a firearm. The man was struck. He was taken to hospital where he was later pronounced dead.”

The police killing of Joey Knapaysweet occurred the same weekend as another Cree person from Fort Albany, 62-year-old Agnes Sutherland, died in custody of Timmins police. Their deaths through police interactions, happened as an all-white jury in Saskatchewan was about to acquit white farmer Gerald Stanley in the 2016 killing of a young Cree man, Colten Boushie. The Stanley trial and acquittal brought international attention to white supremacy, colonialism, and racism in Canada and Canadian criminal justice. The Stanley verdict sparked protests across the country against the mistreatment of Indigenous people throughout the justice system in Canada.

Might the deaths of Joey Knapaysweet and Agnes Sutherland spark further actions and calls for systemic transformation. In Timmins a vigil before the Stanley trial verdict brought out at least 100 people. Micheline Knapaysweet has made a dedication to wear a red scarf, Joey Knapaysweet’s favorite color, until the family receives need answers to their questions.


Two Indigenous Victims of Timmins Police in One Weekend: Joey Knapaysweet (21) and Agnes Sutherland (62)

There is growing outrage, and mounting questions, after a deadly weekend in which two Indigenous people were left dead following encounters with Timmins, Ontario, police. Police in the small northern Ontario city shot and killed Joey Knapaysweet, 21, on Saturday, February 3, 2018. Then, on Sunday, February 4, Agnes Sutherland, 62, died in police custody. Both victims were from Fort Albany First Nation, a James Bay community.

Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents nearly 50 Indigenous communities in northern Ontario, expressed great concern over the two deaths in two days. In his words: “It’s very troubling. The families have a lot of questions” (quoted in Perkel 2018).

 

Deaths at the Hands of Police

Details about both deaths are limited so far. Police control information about their killings and deaths related to their activities. This is a problem across Canada in terms of policing. Police did not release the names of their victims. The names were conformed by multiple other sources, including federal Member of Parliament Charlie Angus.

With regard to the police shooting of Joey Knapaysweet, the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has only said that  there was “an interaction” between officers and the victim and an officer discharged a firearm striking the man.

Agnes Sutherland was arrested at a shelter after having been asked to leave the Timmins District Hospital, where she had sought help. She was taken to a police station and put in a cell on Saturday, the same day Knapaysweet was killed. Later that same evening she was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead late Sunday.

In a statement issued by Indigenous leaders Grand Chief Fiddler, Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon of the Mushkegowuk Council, and Fort Albany First Nation Chief Andrew Solomon, serious questions are raised: “It is alleged that when police attended at the scene of the local shelter, Ms. Sutherland was treated roughly while being taken into police custody. She suffered severe complications during her detention” (quoted in Perkel 2018).

 

Systemic Racism and Colonial Legacies

In their statement, Grand Chief Fiddler, Grand Chief Solomon and Chief Andrew Solomon call for a timely and thorough investigation. They raise the very real issues of racism in policing and the violence targeted at Indigenous people by police. In their words: “We have seen systemic racism in the city of Thunder Bay, and must now wonder if this is also happening in Timmins” (quoted in Perkel 2018).

Notably, Timmins Mayor Steve Black acknowledged that the deaths at the hands of police had increased racial tensions in the city, though he did not specify. He said: “I don’t believe there’s room for racism in any community. If changes need to be made or things need to be done to improve those relationships, we’re definitely willing to work with our partners on improving those relationships” (quoted in Perkel 2018). No word on whether that includes dismantling settler colonial police forces (or mayoralties). He has, though, condemned people who have spoken out against the police and their actions on social media (CBC News 2018).

 

Health Care Not Cops

According to the Chiefs, both victims had left the remote community of Fort Albany, near Ontario’s James Bay coast, to seek medical care in Timmins. They note in their statement: “Our people must continually leave their families and communities to come to cities to seek services that are not available in their respective communities” (quoted in 2018). The deaths come as an emergency summit is being held in Timmins by the Mushkegowuk Council this week. The regional James Bay government declared a state of emergency in November, concerned over the growing number of drugs and alcohol coming into its seven member communities (CBC News 2018).

Sutherland’s son, Glen Sutherland, told the Timmins Daily Press that his mother was a survivor of the notorious St. Anne’s residential school. He said that she needed a wheelchair to get around, and questioned the actions of hospital staff. She was using a wheelchair at the time of her arrest. Glen Sutherland said that her frequent trips to the emergency room were a cry for help (Perkel 2018). She was a mother of six with six great grandchildren.

The mistreatment at hospitals of Indigenous people seeking medical assistance has been a disturbing, and too common, issue in various locations in Canada, including infamous cases in Winnipeg, Manitoba that have gained some national attention. It speaks to ongoing legacies of colonialism and racism in Canada.

 

Conclusion

A vigil in Timmins for Knapaysweet on Tuesday, February 6, drew around 100 people. Chief Andrew Solomon is calling on the Attorney General of Ontario and the Minister of Community Safety to investigate the Timmins Police (CBC News 2018).

Police and criminal justice systems more broadly in Canada disproportionately target Indigenous people and disproportionately target them for violence. Criminal justice systems, including police forces, were founded as instruments of settler colonialism, occupation, dispossession, and displacement and this must always be front and center in discussions of policing in the country.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2018. “First Nations Chiefs ‘Shocked’ by Timmins Deaths.” CBC News. February 7. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/indigenous-chief-respond-timmins-1.4525074

Perkel, Colin. 2018. “Two Indigenous Deaths Linked to Police in Timmins, Ont., has Sparked Sorrow, Anger.” Toronto Star. February 7. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/02/07/two-indigenous-deaths-linked-to-police-in-timmins-ont-has-sparked-sorrow-anger.html


Death of Dale Culver, of Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan First Nations: Formal Complaint Raises Questions About Racism, Intimidation of Witnesses in RCMP Arrest

The British Columbia C Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has raised questions of “racial bias” and excessive force by RCMP officers in the arrest of Dale Culver (35) of the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan First Nations who died in custody following the arrest in July 2017. In an official complaint filed January 16, 2018, to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the BCCLA also claims that the RCMP in Prince George, BC, told witnesses to delete video footage of the Culver arrest. According to police reports, Culver complained of shortness of breath after arrest and was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Culver’s cousin, Debbie Pierre, said she was not informed of his death until 24 hours later. She then found video footage of the arrest posted on social media. In her words: “It was horrific” (quoted in Kurjata and McKinnon 2018). The family had questions about Culver’s death and contacted the BCCLA to get some answers.

Police reports suggest the RCMP responded to a call about a man allegedly “casing vehicles.” This claim has not been independently confirmed nor has it been explained what that assumption was based on by caller or police. Police struggled with Culver physically.

It is reported that pepper spray used in Culver’s arrest. When he was put in the back of a police vehicle he appeared to have difficulty breathing. An ambulance was called and Culver collapsed when taken out of the police car. He was pronounced dead in hospital a bit after midnight on July 19, 2017.

According to executive director Josh Paterson, BCCLA has spoken with “a number of people, including eyewitnesses” who allege RCMP instructed people to delete video footage of the arrest (Kurjata and McKinnon 2018). The association questions whether “explicit or  implicit racial  bias” played a role in the encounter and arrest. BCCLA says it has been told there were “several hours” between the initial call to police and the arrival of RCMP on the scene (Kurjata and McKinnon 2018). This raises obvious questions about Culver was approached and, specifically, whether it was because he was Indigenous.

In the words of the BCCLA complaint:

“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.” (quoted in Kurjata and McKinnon 2018)

Debbie Pierre is left with the same question. In her words: “Was Dale targeted because of Dale or was he targeted because of his being Indigenous” (quoted in Kurjata and McKinnon 2018).

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) is also investigating, as it does in cases of police harm to civilians in the province. IIO chief civilian director Ron MacDonald says the IIO was independently aware of allegations of witnesses being told to delete video footage. He also said the IIO was aware of questions regardding police use of force and the timing of Culver’s arrest.

Culver had three children, the eldest of whom is now 14.

 

Further Reading

Kurjata, Andrew and Audrey McKinnon. 2018. “BC Civil Liberties Association Files Complaint Alleging RCMP Told Witnesses to Delete Video of Arrest” CBC News January 16. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/civil-liberties-iio-pg-rcmp-1.4489925


David Sappa (22) Identified as Man Killed by Police in Umiujaq, Quebec; Killer Cops Not Named

The 22-year-old man who was shot and killed by Kativik Regional Police Force officers on December 28, 2017 in Umiujaq, Quebec, has been identified as David Sappa. It has previously been reported that two officers had gone to Sappa’s house to arrest him. According to that report, Sappa was shot by police outside a community center after he had left his house while one of the officers went to get a warrant to enter the home. Sappa died in hospital. None of the reported information about the killing has been independently confirmed.


Inquest Set for In-Custody Death of Ina Matawapit of North Caribou Lake First Nation after Lengthy Delay

After five years, a date has finally been set for the inquest into the death in police custody of 37-year-old Ina Matawapit, at the Weagamow Lake Nursing Station in North Caribou Lake First Nation, in northern Ontario. Matawapit died on June 7, 2012 after a transfer from a police vehicle while in custody. Matawapit’s case was one of several that have been egregiously delayed due to widespread problems with Indigenous representation on jury rolls. This ongoing, entrenched problem has characterized criminal justice systems and inquests in the Canadian state context. At least 20 cases in Ontario have been delayed by province’s jury roll problems.

The inquest into Matawapit’s death is mandatory under the Coroners Act because she was in custody at the time. The inquest will examine the circumstances surrounding her death by hearing from about 10 witnesses over the scheduled six days of proceedings. Dr. Michael Wilson will be presiding coroner during the inquest which is scheduled to begin at 9:30 AM on February 12, 2018 at the Days Inn in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.


Additional Charges Against Winnipeg Killer Cop Justin Holz for Killing Cody Severight

Killer Winnipeg cop Justin Holz is facing three additional charges of dangerous driving causing death, dangerous driving, and driving with a blood-alcohol level over .08 per cent causing death for the hit and run killing of 23-year-old Cody Severight, an Indigenous man from the Waywayseecappo First Nation, about 280 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. Holz was initially charged with impaired driving causing death and failing to remain at the scene of an accident. The new charges were announced on November 28, 2017. Holz is on administrative leave with pay.

Holz (34) had been drinking after his shift before getting in his vehicle and striking Severight while the young man crossed Main Street near Sutherland Avenue around 8 PM on October 10, 2017. The killer cop then left the scene of the killing.

The Independent Investigation Unit (IIU), which examines cases of police harm to civilians in Manitoba has continued its investigation since the killing. At the time of the initial charges results of a breathalyzer test had not been returned. Two other police officers who had been assigned to investigate the hit and run have also been placed on paid administrative leave and could face charges for their actions. The maximum sentence for a conviction for dangerous driving causing death is presently 14 years, but legislation proposed earlier this year would increase that to life.

Cody Severight’s grandmother, Gloria Lebold, said that she is glad that the killer cop is facing more charges. In her words: “I’m glad he’s got all of these charges. I’m glad he’s going to have to deal with them” (quoted in CBC News 2017). And this is indeed a rare event. Probably one that would not have occurred had Holz been on duty at the time since cops who kill while o duty are almost never charged, even under obviously dubious circumstances like this. Continued Lebold: “I think he should go to jail. He did a terrible thing. He took an innocent life, only 23 years old. We loved our little grandson” (quoted in CBC News 2017). The family has called for an apology from the cop who killed their loved one.

Denise Elias, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Winnipeg chapter president, expressed disappointment with officer Holz. In her words: “The first feeling that I had was sadness. It is very disappointing, very hurtful”,  adding her disappointment was greater considering Holz was someone who has sworn “to uphold the law, to abide by the law” (quoted in CBC News 2017).

Killer cop Justin Holz had his first court appearance scheduled for Wednesday, November 22, but a representative from his lawyer’s firm appeared on his behalf. Holz is currently out on bail.

Severight had just moved to a new apartment and was planning on going back to school when Holz cut his dreams short. Said Gloria Lebold: “We loved our Cody. This little guy was just starting his life” (quoted in CBC News 2017).

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2017. “Dangerous Driving Causing Death Charge Added for Winnipeg Police Officer in Fatal Hit and Run.” CBC News. November 28. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/justin-holz-more-charges-1.4423544