12 year-old girl bitten by police dog sparks call for reform

Prince George- More details have emerged in the case of a young girl who was apprehended and bitten by an RCMP police dog. The recent case has Pivot Legal Society, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, Carrier Sekani Family Services, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, and the family of the young girl all calling for a significant change that addresses when and how police dogs can be used against children and youth.

The four groups have sent a letter to Ron Field, the provincial director of the RCMP police dog service, calling for a policy that requires constables to avoid using police dogs whenever it has been identified that the suspect in question is a youth; they also recommend that police dogs only be used if the youth presents a clear threat of death or grievous bodily harm to themselves or others.  

 
When Pivot Legal Society and Carrier Sekani Family Services met with the local RCMP recently the force acknowledged that the use of their dog squad is an area they are currently reviewing. The four groups, along with the family of the girl who was bitten, are hoping that the local RCMP will come up with some solutions without waiting for a change in provincial or national policy. “We’re working to find solutions,” stated Terry Teegee, current chief of Carrier Sekani Tribal Council.  “Pivot Legal Society has looked at the statistics and the number of BC youth injured by police dogs is too high.  It is not unreasonable to ask for a policy that limits the force used on young offenders.”
 
In May of this year in Prince George the RCMP responded to an altercation between youth that involved bear spray. After searching the area with a service dog, they located a twelve year-old girl who had fled the scene. The service dog was released in order to apprehend the child, and in the process she was bitten multiple times on the leg.
 
The family alleges that police took her to the hospital where she was treated with twenty stitches, then held her for hours in an adult jail cell before finally notifying her parents around 2 AM. The Youth Criminal Justice Act requires police to notify the family as soon as possible after an arrest; it also does not allow youth to be taken to jail facilities intended for adults. 
 
“The young girl and her family are quite clear in maintaining that when located by the police and their service dog she told them her age, offered to give herself up, and said that she was afraid of being attacked by the dog,” stated Douglas King, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society. “This troubling case is yet another example of why there needs to be greater controls placed on how police dogs are used in this province. The RCMP cannot be allowed to ignore the laws we have in place to protect youth.”  
 
The local incident came just a few months after the family of a youth in Surrey lodged a complaint after their son was bitten in the face by an RCMP police dog for stealing an energy drink, and just four months after another 12 year-old was bitten by a police dog in Vancouver.
 
The groups are also requesting a meeting with senior representatives from the RCMP’s Northern District and National Headquarters, and are hoping to address what appears to be an escalating level of force being used on children and youth who are mainly Aboriginal.
 
“Right now, the relationship between aboriginal people and police in Prince George is one based on fear and distrust,” explained Preston Guno, a program manager at Carrier Sekani Family Services. “We do recognize that it is sometimes necessary to use force – but we believe that force should always be reasonable and it should always take into account the age of the child. CSFS, CSTC, UBCIC, and PIVOT are calling for the RCMP to stop this specific use of force until a more reasonable solution is determined.”
 
For a backgrounder on this case and the issue of police dogs in B.C. click here

Office of the Police Complaint Commission statistics on police dogs can be found here, andhere

Contacts:

In Vancouver:
Doug King, Lawyer with Pivot Legal Society - (778) 898-6349

In Prince George:
Preston Guno, Manager at Carrier Sekani Family Services - (250) 562-3591
Terry Teegee, Chief of Carrier Sekani Tribal Council - (250) 562-6279