RCMP responding to 911 calls in B.C. accused of brutality towards aboriginals

·National Affairs Contributor

The veneer of public good will towards the RCMP in British Columbia keeps getting thinner. Now officers are being accused of brutalizing First Nations people who called 911 for help.

The latest flap arose this week after the B.C. Civil Liberties Association called a news conference to complain about what it saw as a pattern of three questionable incidents within a five-week period by officers in the northwestern communities of Prince Rupert and Terrace.

"All of the incidents involve families of aboriginal descent, all called the RCMP for help with a family member, each case resulted in serious injury, and each took place in a specific geographic area over a short period of time," association president Robert Holmes said in a news release. "These factors suggest to us that there is a serious systemic problem."

Association executive director David Eby told a news conference Tuesday the Mounties need to look carefully at their 911 response to domestic situations.

"People shouldn't be afraid that when they call the RCMP for help, a family member will be seriously injured," said Eby, according to the Vancouver Sun. "And unfortunately, that is what is happening."

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The incidents took place in April and May. In one case in Prince Rupert, a 15-year-old single mother that threatened to attempt suicide ended up with a broken arm and under arrest for assaulting a police officer.

In two separate cases, men ended up with head injuries during altercations with officers responding to 911 calls. One of them, apprehended for drunk driving after a call from his wife, was hurt badly enough in police cells to suffer a brain injury that required a flight to Vancouver for surgery. The other man alleges that after he called 911 to report a family member arriving drunk outside his house, he ended up being punched repeatedly in the head by the responding officer, the Sun reported.

But the force is lashing back at the association over this one, saying it's done everything by the book and is not concealing anything.

A senior B.C. Mountie was quick to react to the news conference. Supt. Ray Bernoties, officer in charge of communications, said in a statement the media event went ahead despite the fact the association had a previously scheduled meeting with the assistant commissioner to discuss its concerns.

"I am disappointed that the BCCLA would grandstand on these files when they know full well that there are independent external investigations ongoing by the New Westminster Police, Delta Police and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP," Bernoties said.

He noted the allegations remain unproven and that the external investigations were announced in news releases at the time of the initial complaints.

This isn't the first incident leaving the B.C. RCMP in hot water. Past controversies included the death by Taser of a Polish immigrant at Vancouver airport, suspicious in-custody deaths, and a transfer to B.C. for an Alberta officer disciplined, but not fired, for drinking and having sex on the job.

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The lack of public confidence in the RCMP is reflected in delays by some B.C. municipalities in signing on to a new 20-year contract to provide local policing.

The deal, negotiated by the B.C. government last fall, was supposed to be signed by the end of May.

But some communities, notably the large Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, have held back while musing about setting up their own police forces, the Victoria Times Colonist reported.

B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond has given the holdouts until the end of June to sign, noting the majority of municipalities have accepted the contract.

Civic leaders are balking in part because they felt blindsided by Mountie pay raises announced recently by the federal government. The communities, who pay the Mounties, complained there was no consultation over the increase, according to the Vancouver Sun.

For critics, the pay-raise issue is an example of the problems created when a federally controlled force is responsible for policing local communities.