Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone

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Coroner's Court - Day 3 and Recommendations

Wednesday was the third and final day of the coroner's inquest into the death of Michael Vann Hubbard where Pivot lawyer Douglas King represented the family. Along with Niki Schnurr, one of Pivot's mental health and policing interns, they bring their thoughts about the evidence heard and the recommendations made. 

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When the evidence was finished and the last expert consulted the jury was left with two pieces of paper, the first a letter detailing the history and personality of Michael Vann Hubbard written by his daughter, the second a 3x3" picture of Mr. Hubbard, taken from his abandoned refugee application for entry into Canada. It is beyond strange that these were given to the jury at the conclusion of the inquest, three days after we disected every second before and after Mr. Hubbard was shot by a Vancouver Police Department constable on March 20, 2009. 

A little over a year before that day, in Urbana Illinois, Mr. Hubbard left the majority of his possessions in a car he was borrowing from his daughter and left for Vancouver Canada. Growing up in Texas Mr. Hubbard spent the majority of his youth as a model of the blue collar worker, trained as a pipe fitter and working during the great oil boom, he started to identify with the worker's rights movement and quickly became a self-professed marxist. This explains in part why he would ultimately target Canada as a destination. When mental illness took hold Mr. Hubbard's life changed drastically, eventually pitting his disability benefits against his desire to continue working. In Illinois where Mr. Hubbard settled with his daughters there were many similarities with the welfare system in B.C., but with one stark difference: those on government disability benefits would have access to health care and medications paid for, those without did not have the safety net of socialized medicine to fall back on. If Mr. Hubbard worked too much he would lose his benefits, and the amount he made was not enough to cover the cost of medication. Caught in this income trap he began to invision his home country as an agent of persecution, and Canada became a possible springboard to a truly socialist country like China or Cuba which he idolized so much. 

It's not surprising that Mr. Hubbard's journey to Canada did not go entirely as planned, and a year after his arrival he was homeless and staying at the Belkin House shelter whenever possible. Three years later, we poured over his last days in front of the presiding coroner in an effort to identify what went wrong and what could have changed to prevent such a tragic outcome. Perhaps the thing that stood out to me the most is the hardest to quantify. That the two constables involved in the shooting of Mr. Hubbard testified they were in search of two suspects who had stolen a black backpack and purposely went to Belkin House looking for a suspect, simply because they knew it housed parolees. This type of social profiling would prove deadly, as the officers spotted Mr. Hubbard and fixated on the one thing that he also fixated on the most, a black knapsack that contained every possession he owned. When Mr. Hubbard refused to allow them to search it they threatened to place him in handcuffs, a gesture which would be seen by most as heavy-handed. Despite this both constables testified that they tried their best to de-escalate the situation and spoke in calm, even voices. The fact that neither seemed to realize that a threat is a threat regardless of the tone of voice perhaps did not go unnoticed by the jury, as an emphasis on greater training was clear in their recommendations. 

I think the thing that scares me the most is how little recognition there was throughout the inquest that there are many people like Mr. Hubbard on the streets of Vancouver, and while this circumstance was tragic it is not hard to see it happening again. When Mr. Hubbard pulled out an exacto-knife the constables had no way of knowing that the reason he carried it was for his artwork; intricately carved greeting cards, and that for many years he kept it by his side at all times. Personally through my time at Pivot I have met many who possess the same commonalities as Mr. Hubbard: a strong desire to protect their limited possessions, a small knife carried for carving, and a complicated battle with mental illness. The failure of the police to understand that this situation is not unique, and overlooking the extent of their demands and the feeling of oppression they can evoke, is like pulling the first of many triggers. 

And after the most important trigger was pulled, the one ending Mr. Hubbard's life, it was shocking to hear just how ill prepared the VPD constables on scene were to deal with the injuries they had caused, leaving Mr. Hubbard lying for minutes without care as they cordoned off the scene. In the end the jury recognized that this cycle needs to be broken, and after two hours of deliberation they came back with recommendations emphasizing the need for better training and greater cooperation with the medical services the VPD depends on to treat the people they shoot. Just whether or not the VPD will listen, and make these necessary changes, awaits to be seen.