After RCMP officers charged with manslaughter, family calls court hearing delays 'heart-wrenching'

Members of Dale Culver's family mourn for him outside the Prince George courthouse.  (Betsy Trumpener/CBC - image credit)
Members of Dale Culver's family mourn for him outside the Prince George courthouse. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC - image credit)

Family members of an Indigenous man who died in police custody travelled from across B.C. and Alberta to the Prince George courthouse Tuesday for the arraignment of five RCMP officers charged with manslaughter and obstruction of justice in his death.

There, Dale Culver's family learned the scheduled court hearing for the officers had been postponed for the second time in two months. 

"Again, at the 11th hour, we're finding out the court has been adjourned. It's just been so heart-wrenching for everybody," Culver's cousin Debbie Pierre told CBC News outside the courthouse.

Betsy Trumpener/CBC
Betsy Trumpener/CBC

"We're not going to go away silently regardless of if they continuously adjourn this," said Pierre, who said she is still seeking justice, almost six years after her cousin's death.

In an email to CBC News, Ann Seymour, a spokesperson for the B.C. Prosecution Service, said it was not uncommon for initial court appearances to be adjourned "from time to time ... to ensure all parties are ready to proceed to the next stage of the process."

Betsy Trumpener/CBC
Betsy Trumpener/CBC

On Tuesday morning on the sidewalk outside the courthouse, drummers from Prince George played an Indigenous healing song as some of Culver's family members wept and hugged each other.

Pierre said that growing up together in the communities of Granisle and Witset, Culver was like a brother to her.

"He was always so comical, and he just loved life. Even in serious situations, he'd make a joke. And his children were the highlight of his life."

Culver was the father of three children, the youngest an infant when he died in police custody.

The 35-year-old man was a member of the Wet'suwet'en and Gitxsan First Nations.

RCMP officers charged 

A report from the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. said that after Culver was arrested by Prince George RCMP on July 19, 2017, he had trouble breathing and died.

Betsy Trumpener/CBC
Betsy Trumpener/CBC

Earlier this year, almost six years after Culver died, two Prince George RCMP officers, Const. Paul Ste-Marie and Const. Jean Francois Monette were charged with manslaughter.

Three other Mounties, Const Arthur Dalman, Const Clarence Alexander MacDonald, and Sgt Bayani [Jon] Eusebio Cruz, face charges of obstruction of justice.

As Pierre waits for the arraignment hearing in the case, she said she's closely followed the inquest into the police custody death of Myles Gray and is in contact with Gray's mother through social media.

Betsy Trumpener/CBC
Betsy Trumpener/CBC

On Monday, a coroner's jury declared Myles's death a homicide and made three recommendations to the Vancouver Police Department, including the use of body cameras and a review of de-escalation training.

Still, after countless inquests into police-involved deaths, Pierre said there is no mechanism to ensure inquest recommendations intended to prevent deaths in similar circumstances are ever put into practice.

"If they were implemented over the years, we would not be in this position. We would not have to mourn our loved ones. There would not be children left orphans."

The arraignment for the officers charged in Culver's death has been rescheduled for June 6, 2023.

Dan McLaughlin, a spokesperson for the B.C. Prosecution Service, said the accused are not required to attend their arraignment and would likely not be there in person.