"You Can Not Keep Killing Us"

The mother and daughters of Jared Lowndes mark two years since the RCMP killing of their loved one by filing a civil law suit.

Laura Holland, July 8, 2023, Grandview Park memorial. Photo by Nic Peerson.

Laura Holland, July 8, 2023, Grandview Park memorial.
Photo by Nic Peerson.

On July 8, 2021, my phone rang, with Homalco community members reaching out to me as a journalist. I learned Campbell River RCMP had killed Jared Lowndes, a Wet’suwet’en man of the Laksilyu Clan whose daughters also have ties to Homalco. When I put the phone down, I looked at my own son and wept. A loss of life is tragic under any circumstances, but I felt a deeper loss of trust and faith hearing of a life taken – by “peace officers.” It felt like there were no words to express this, but through interviewing Jared’s family and friends, I found words and heart.

Glenn Pallen sings and drums as the sun set July 8, 2021, honouring the life of Jared Lowndes.
Video by Odette Auger

Jared’s mother Alunaye, Laura Holland and his daughters marked this anniversary by filing a civil lawsuit against the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, and the four RCMP officers. The filing seeks the following damages: general, special, aggravated and punitive damages pursuant to the Family Compensation Act, RSBC 1996, c. 126.

“This lawsuit is a message for the RCMP – you cannot keep killing us,” says Laura. “Across BC and Canada, Indigenous Nations, communities and families are reeling from continued police killings of our people. We must replace these unaccountable systems.”

A memorial on July 8 2021, remembering Jared as a loving uncle, father and friend. Photo by Odette Auger - A yellow sign and bouquets of flowers are prominently displayed, with some other signs in the background, out of focus. The sign reads: Justice for Jared #INDIGENOUS LIVES MATTER - two more lines of text are partially blocked by some flowers. First one presumably reads "#Every Child Matters" and the other ends with "Stolen Indigenous Land"

A memorial on July 8 2021, remembering Jared as a loving uncle, father and friend.
Photo by Odette Auger

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) is an advocate, recognizing “the work that Laura has done to bring attention to her son’s death shows remarkable strength and courage standing up to our oppressors.”

“But she should have never been in this position. None of our families should ever be in this position,” he stated in the press release, “To have to ensure that the Canadian criminal justice system works for every person. The rule of law says that no one person is above the law, including those who enforce it.”

This lawsuit is a message for the RCMP – you cannot keep killing us...

Laura Holland.

Systemic racism in policing leads to disturbing rates of death and injury of Indigenous people in police custody, according to Tracking (In)Justice: A Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Data and Transparency Project, since 2000 there have been 117 police-involved killings of Indigenous people across Canada, with 21 of those deaths occurring in BC. 17 of the police-involved deaths of Indigenous people in BC involved the RCMP.

The tracking project shows the number of people who have died from “use of force interactions” with police is increasing. In 2022, a record was set with 69 people died during police use of force interactions – the most deaths in 20 years. One thing that’s consistent in the 20 years of data: Indigenous people die at almost eight times the rate compared to white people.

Jared's belongings were held by IIO, hindering grieving protocols. Opening at one year memorial. Photo by Odette Auger - Laura Holland holding out her son's shirt while also holding an eagle feather in her left hand.

Jared's belongings were held by IIO, hindering grieving protocols. Opening at one year memorial.
Photo by Odette Auger

Systemic injustice

In December, the family felt some hope the police who killed Jared would be held criminally responsible. After waiting one and a half years, the Independent Investigations Offce of BC (IIO) announced that they would file a report with Crown Counsel for consideration of charges against at least three of the four police officers. However, six months have passed and the IIO still has not filed its final report with Crown Counsel.

“The IIO had made their recommendation for a charge or charges to be laid,” says Laura, "...but I’m not so sure about how hard they actually tried. But at the time, it was the only hope our family had.” Now their hopes lie with the Crown to pursue criminal charges, and this separate civil suit. “Now I need to put my faith in the court system, that hasn’t always been just for my people,” says Laura.

“For the entirety of the RCMP’s history,” says Grand Chief Phillip, “they have been killing and displacing Indigenous people and there has been little to no accountability. They rarely serve jail time for committing crimes while on the job, and almost never see accountability for violent actions against Indigenous peoples.”

We have been calling for an overhaul to the racist policing system for years; it is not working, and it is inherently discriminatory...

Grand Chief Phillip, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

In the press release of July 7, legal counsel Neil Chantler explains the significance of this civil lawsuit. “This was a senseless killing. The RCMP appear to have created the situation that led to Jared’s death.”

The filing of a civil suit addresses the new reality the family faces. Laura once heard another family grieving from police brutality say, “When police kill someone, they kill the whole family.” The quote came to her at a time when her family was “really struggling with the loss of our loved one. For a while I believed it,” she says, “As I watched my children and grandchildren struggle with mental health, addictions, ptsd, anxiety and deep sadness while trying to make sense of what had happened.”

“The wrongful death of Mr. Lowndes has had a profound effect on everyone who knew him, especially his family,” says Chantler. “They seek justice and accountability with this civil claim, as well as answers to their long standing questions about how this tragedy unfolded.”

Indigenous people have been struggling for centuries and it is time to change the laws that kill us.

Laura Holland.

“Our lives are changed forever, who we are as a family with our lifelong friends, we have all been changed forever,” explains Laura. Advocates and legal counsel for the family hope the civil claim will result in some financial compensation for Jared’s mother and daughters. In addition, "it highlights the outdated wrongful death laws in this Province,” says Chantler. B.C. is the last province in Canada to modernize the colonial-era laws of the Family Compensation Act.

The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society says The Family Compensation Act “is little more than a knock off of the old Lord Campbell’s Act,” – from 1846, UK. The society’s goal is to modernize BC’s wrongful death laws. Unlike other provinces, B.C. currently denies justice to the surviving family members of children, seniors, the disabled, “or anyone who wasn’t considered a breadwinner with dependents, when killed by the careless or intentional acts of another.”

Laura is determined something “good” has to come from this tragedy. “Indigenous people have been struggling for centuries and it is time to change the laws that kill us.”

She intends this civil lawsuit to be used as a tool to bring issues for Indigenous men and boys to a broader focus. Just as there are deniers of MMIWG, there are deniers of how systemic racism in the justice system impacts Indigenous men and boys. “The police and the government have not been held to account for the destruction of our lives,” says Laura, and she hopes now there is an audience who is listening and able to make important changes. “They can’t deny forever,” says Laura.

Image, lino print (11x14 black ink on white paper), and image description, by Magin Payete: A moose walks at night in the Yintah surrounded by evergreens and devil's club. The full moon hangs low and loudly proclaims "Dont Back Down". The ground below says "Justice For Jared"

Linocut by advocate Magin Payet, fundraiser for legal fees, justiceforjared.org

Holding hope, and grief

Over the last two years, I’ve interviewed Jared’s mother, family and friends as news of the investigation develops. I’ve admired Laura’s powerful speaking, and felt fierce joy seeing the strength that community can grow. When I listen to Laura, we’re connecting as mothers, too.

When life milestones pass, we moms think of our birthing stories. On this terrible anniversary, she shares her first child’s birthing story with me. Walking in the November winds, she watched snowflakes swirling upwards. She remembers thinking, “Is this what life will be like from now on?”

I will continue to raise my children, prepare, work and do good in my community...

Jared wrote in January 2021.

Her former foster mother, Louise Mangan, met baby Jared the day he was born, looked into his eyes and said, “my goodness, what an old soul!” Jared later wrote of abuses he experienced in the justice system, and predicted the RCMP killing him. “I will continue to raise my children, prepare, work and do good in my community,” he wrote in January 2021.

“Kill me if you must, like you have so many of my relatives and people before me, it won’t change the fact there needs to be serious reform in the criminal justice system,” Jared wrote, “How can anyone uphold the law without being held to a higher standard of law?”

In the family’s darkest days, hearts would break afresh every time someone thought to pick up the phone to call Jared, about a new book they were reading, or a game they wanted to play. They started to lose interest in the things they had done together, and were alone in their sadness. That’s when Laura realized she’d been too alone with her grief, and needed to push herself and her family towards healing.

“We are still struggling but we are making steps to being comfortable with grief, I have realized that is the only way to move ahead. We have to expand who we are, make room in our beings for the incredible despair that we have been carrying, we can’t push it away but we can grow with grief.”

I feel uncomfortable asking about hope, especially this weekend marking two years since her loved son’s death. It feels important to know, though – does she hold hope?

We have to lean heavily on our ways – the ancient ones, our ancestors have taught us what we need to do as a people.

Laura Holland

“Even to see a glimmer of hope – I pray for that hope daily. To finally have police that protect us, too. To have police that search for the missing, and search the landfills.” Jared wrote about the connections between land theft and homelessness, between colonial pillaging resources and violence against Indigenous women. He was looking forward to the day when Wet'suwet'en rights to land and water were won. “He understood this as something monumental for our people,” says his mother.

Two years after his killing, his family, friends and advocates gathered in a park to honour his memory, and feed their rallying spirits. Sharing and redistribution of food is an important part of what Wet’suwet’en people do, and “as we always do, at feasts back on our homelands, we gave out food bags for everyone,” says Laura. In part to show even in their grief, they take care of community members. “Jay would be pleased to see this."

“We will find ways to survive, that’s what we’ve always done, and we will find bits of joy along the way,” says Laura. “We have to lean heavily on our ways – the ancient ones, our ancestors have taught us what we need to do as a people.”

“DON’T. BACK. DOWN.” affirms the voice of Jared, ringing in Laura’s ears – inspiring her “to go forward, to fight a little longer, to fight a little harder - until we WIN.”

For more information visit: JusticeForJared.org

About Guest Author

Odette is a Sagamok Anishnawbek; an award winning journalist and storyteller, who has written for the APTN News, Asparagus Magazine, IndigiNews, La Converse, Mindset Reporting on Mental Health, The Resolve, The Tyee, Watershed Sentinel, and Windspeaker.

Disclaimer: This post had been originally posted on July 11, 2023, by Odette Auger. As such, certain references to upcoming events, and important dates may indeed be in the past.

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