Family of Indigenous man who died after arrest dismayed at delay in Mounties' court appearances
The family of an Indigenous man who died after being arrested by RCMP more than six years ago say they were upset to learn long-awaited court appearances for the officers charged in his death have been put over until later in the spring.
At a news conference Monday, relatives of Dale Culver said they found out with less than a day's notice that hearings scheduled to take place in Prince George, B.C., on Tuesday have been postponed.
"It's just like a nightmare," said Virginia Pierre, Culver's aunt.
"We've been waiting over six years and then all of a sudden nothing is happening tomorrow? There's something wrong here."
All five Prince George RCMP officers charged in Culver's death are now set to appear in provincial court on May 2.
Two face manslaughter charges, while the three were charged with obstruction of justice in relation to events that took place immediately after Culver's death.
Culver, 35, was a father of three and a member of the Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan First Nations. He died after having trouble breathing following his arrest in the city in 2017.
WATCH | Lily Speed-Namox speaks about her father:
Culver was taken into custody after police were called about a man allegedly casing vehicles, according to B.C.'s police oversight agency. A report said he was pepper-sprayed during a struggle, had trouble breathing and died.
"We can't celebrate the normal things a family experiences," said Culver's eldest daughter, Lily Speed-Namox, now 20.
"I was scared angry and confused as to how people who are supposed to help and guide and keep people safe could take those people's lives away just as fast."
Constables Paul Ste-Marie and Jean Francois Monette face the manslaughter charges.
Const. Arthur Dalman, Const. Clarence (Alex) Alexander MacDonald and Sgt. Bayani (Jon) Eusebio Cruz face the attempted obstruction charges.
Four of the five — Ste-Marie, Monette, Dalman and Cruz — remain on active duty. MacDonald is on administrative leave for reasons unrelated to Culver's death, RCMP previously said.
An independent review in 2019 found "reasonable grounds'' to believe two officers may have committed offences related to use of force and three others may have obstructed justice, but the Crown was not handed a final report until 2020.
Charge approval took nearly three more years — a delay the family and the head of the Independent Investigation Office of B.C. agreed was "unacceptable."
At a news conference Monday, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth — whose ministry oversees the RCMP — said the province is looking to table new legislation this year to ensure investigations move quicker.
"As we have seen, Indigenous people are significantly over-represented in our correctional facilities and, in too many cases, have suffered fatalities, and that's simply not acceptable," Farnworth said.
Allegations officers told witnesses to delete video
In Canada, manslaughter is defined as homicide committed without an intent to cause death, although there may be an intention to cause bodily harm.
Obstruction is an offence that requires "a wilful attempt by an accused, in any manner, to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice."
In 2018, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed a formal complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, alleging Mounties had told witnesses to delete video footage of Culver's arrest.
The association also questioned whether "explicit or implicit racial bias" had played a role in the case. The complaint said the BCCLA was told there were "several hours" between the initial call to police and arrival of RCMP on the scene, raising questions about whether Culver was approached because he was Indigenous.
Culver's death led to allegations of anti-Indigenous racism in policing and was a focus during a number of protests in northern B.C. following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota in May 2020.