Lawsuit highlights need for greater police accountability in B.C.’s First Nations communities

Bella Coola, B.C. [September 24]—A lawsuit against the RCMP alleging unlawful detention and an illegal search is shedding light on policing issues in British Columbia’s First Nations communities.

Kimberly Mack and Demi King, both members of the Nuxalk First Nations in Bella Coola, B.C., claim they were wrongfully arrested by RCMP on May 26, 2010, when the van they were driving with Mack’s common-law partner and her three children was stopped by two RCMP officers.

The officers informed Mack they had received an anonymous tip that the women were travelling with illicit drugs after attending a potlatch ceremony in Vancouver. When Mack refused to consent to a vehicle search, the officers allegedly threatened to get the Ministry of Child and Family Development to “come take the kids”, and warned that a police dog would be called in. The car was searched and no illegal substances were found. No warrant was presented for the search.

“This case highlights the critical absence of accountability in the policing of rural communities, especially First Nations communities, in this province and across Canada,” says Doug King, police accountability lawyer for Pivot Legal Society, which is representing the claimants.  “In small communities like this, where police action has a profound effect on someone’s reputation and well-being, there need to be greater checks in place to ensure that the rights of all people, especially local aboriginal residents, are not violated.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, commented, “I am deeply disappointed at how prevalent complaints are where members of the RCMP demonstrate poor judgment and abusive behavior when interacting with First Nations citizens. The RCMP must become more accountable to all citizens of the communities they serve. Acting on an anonymous tip, and threatening to separate children from their parents in order to search a vehicle without a warrant, reeks of profiling.”

Indigenous people are the most over-represented group in the Canadian criminal justice system as a whole. A report issued by Canada’s correctional investigator in 2013 found that Indigenous people account for 23% of the country’s federal prison population with higher rates in Western Canada, and that Indigenous people are sentenced to longer terms and are less likely to be granted parole than other people.

“The justice system absolutely must do better in its dealings with Indigenous people,” says Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. “Discrimination against Indigenous people in this country is tearing communities and families apart. While those who commit crimes should be dealt with justly and fairly, the evidence shows that the criminal justice system over-polices and over-incarcerates Indigenous people. This is racist and it is unacceptable.”

Mack and King are seeking damages for their arrest and search. A Notice of Claim can be found here. The case will be heard by the Provincial Court of B.C. on Thursday, September 24.

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About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s award-winning work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot Legal Society has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy.

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Kevin Hollett
Communications Director