Rodney Levi's sister hurt by inappropriate laughter, Christian prayer at inquest

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Rodney Levi's sister and three nieces have been attending the inquest into his death at the hands of police. Picture from left: Glo Denny, Rhoda Levi, Lana Levi and Gina Levi. (Rachel Cave/CBC - image credit)
Rodney Levi's sister and three nieces have been attending the inquest into his death at the hands of police. Picture from left: Glo Denny, Rhoda Levi, Lana Levi and Gina Levi. (Rachel Cave/CBC - image credit)

At the end of a marathon day of testimony, and after watching a video of her brother being Tasered then fatally shot by the RCMP, Rhoda Levi expressed herself in angry tears.

"This is why our First Nations people don't trust the RCMP and do not trust any agency outside of our community," said Levi, flanked by three nieces of shooting victim Rodney Levi, said after proceedings Thursday.

She said it was hurtful to hear laughter at the inquest in Miramichi at which her family had no standing.

There were times when the coroner, the coroner's lawyer, the witness, and observers did laugh out loud.

Those moments sometimes happened in the intervals between the toughest, most sensitive questions and answers.

Examples would include when video technology wasn't working as planned, or when the coroner advised a young adult witness to restrain from using an offensive word so often.

Submitted by Tara Louise Perley
Submitted by Tara Louise Perley

One childhood friend of Rodney's described him with affection as being like a brother.

"We played ball together. We drank together. We fought together," said Steven Ward, eliciting a few knowing chuckles from the family's side of the room.

But for Rhoda Levi, it was laughter from non-Indigenous observers that stung.

"I have a brother I'll never see again. My mother's never going to hear him laugh again. But these witnesses in there, nonchalantly laughing? Really? Like it's all a big show. Just another dead Indian?"

'Look what the Catholic church has done to us'

Levi also took offence when one witness asked to say a Christian prayer before giving his testimony.

Brodie MacLeod, the pastor at the Boom Road Pentecostal Church, had been summonsed to give testimony about why Levi was at his house on the evening of June 12, 2020. He would also be asked to describe what he saw and heard before Levi was shot.

But he became emotional almost as soon as he entered the room and sat down.

He asked if he could say a prayer. The coroner consented and everybody in the room stood up.

"The pastor praying today? Please give me a break," said Rhoda Levi. "I'm sorry that was just shoved down my throat."

Levi said it was especially inappropriate on Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — a day to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools.

"Look what the Catholic church has done to us," she said. "Look at the children that never came home that were taken away from their families."

At the outset of the inquest, Coroner John Evans explained that he would be taking cultural guidance from a Mi'kmaw elder who would be present throughout the hearing.

Kenneth Francis of Elsipogtog First Nation sat every day next to lawyer and former prosecutor P.J. Veniot, who has been questioning the witnesses on behalf of the coroner.

All witnesses and jury members were given the option of affirming oaths, swearing on a Bible or taking oaths on an eagle feather.

Rodney Levi's family and other members of Metepenagiag First Nation have been able to perform traditional ceremonies, such as smudging, before the start of each day.

But Rhoda Levi says the hearing is still a display of what she called, white privilege.

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After watching the video of her brother in the seconds before he got shot, she asked how anyone could interpret what they saw in that video as Rodney acting aggressively.

In the legal opinion released by New Brunswick's Public Prosecutions Services, one witness said Levi "lunged" toward a police officer, with knives in his hand, just before he was shot.

Another witness said he stepped toward the officer. Yet another said he "charged" toward the officer.

"I didn't see in that video where he was aggressive at all," said Rhoda. "Rodney was never aggressive with his family."

"I don't know what non-native people are seeing," she said. "I don't understand."

Mistrust of police watchdog

Rhoda said she didn't trust the investigation done by the Quebec agency, the Bureau des Enquêtes indépendantes du Québec (BEI), that was brought in to New Brunswick to review the actions by police that day.

She said they called upon witnesses who were not credible, in her opinion.

At the start of Thursday's proceedings, the coroner had said two women had been served with summons but he noted they weren't present.

He said he would give them until noon and then he would issue a warrant for their arrest.

Later in the day, he said contact had been made with the two witnesses and that it had been decided that the two women would be dismissed.

Rhoda Levi said one of them was identified as witness No. 7 in the BEI report.

According to that report, witness No. 7 had described Rodney Levi as being severely depressed when she spoke to him on June 9, 10 and 12, and that he had been talking about "suicide by RCMP."

"Her exact words were, 'That's all he talked about, suicide by RCMP," said the report released by the prosecutor's office.

Rhoda Levi said, "that made the perfect bow on the present for the BEI."

The inquest took Friday off for Treaty Day and is expected to resume on Monday with testimony from the two RCMP officers who were at the scene.

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