Two RCMP officers charged with manslaughter in the 2017 death of an Indigenous man in Prince George have pleaded not guilty.
The two officers charged with manslaughter, Const. Paul Ste-Marie and Const. Jean Francois Monette weren't present in the Prince George courtroom for their arraignment Tuesday.
They entered their pleas through their lawyers, who appeared remotely by video on a console that was only partly visible to the gallery inside the small courtroom.
B.C.'s police watchdog says RCMP encountered Dale Culver on July 18, 2017, after responding to a report of a man casing vehicles. RCMP say Culver tried to flee on a bicycle. He was pepper sprayed and placed in the back of a police cruiser.
Culver, a Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan man and the father of three children, had trouble breathing and later died in hospital
Outside the courthouse, Culver's cousin, Wesley Mitchell, remembered Culver for his positive influence.
"He could walk into a room where there was sorrow going on, where a lot of people were lost, and he could bring our spirits up."
In March and again in May, Culver's family members travelled from B.C. and Alberta to Prince George to attend arraignment hearings, only to have the court proceedings postponed at the last minute.
On Tuesday morning, the arraignment proceeded, but it took less than 15 minutes, happening so quickly that Culver's family and friends, who were consoling each other outside the courthouse, didn't reach the courtroom in time to observe the proceedings.
Drummers from Prince George played an Indigenous healing song as some of Culver's family members wept and hugged each other.
Laura Holland, the mother of a B.C. police shooting victim, had travelled to Prince George to be with them.
Her son, Jared Lowndes, a Wet'suwet'en man, was shot by RCMP outside a Tim Horton's in Campbell River in 2021.
"It's really important to be here because these are my people," she said.
B.C. Assembly of First Nation's regional Chief Terry Teegee said he was there to "seek some semblance of justice. Far too often, our Indigenous people are killed in custody."
Nearly six years after Culver's death, charges were laid against five RCMP officers.
The date for the preliminary inquiry for the two officers charged with manslaughter hasn't yet been set.
Three other Mounties, Const Arthur Dalman, Const Clarence Alexander MacDonald, and Sgt Bayani [Jon] Eusebio Cruz, face charges of obstruction of justice and will be arraigned in July.