By Lloyd Dolha
Nine officers and three guards were working in the Whitehorse RCMP cellblock the day Raymond Silverfox (age 43) died in custody. None of them will face charges for allowing the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nations man to perish in a cell after 13 hours of vomiting and lying in his own feces. Following an extensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Silverfox and an independent legal assessment of findings of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Insp. Brandon Fitzpatrick of RCMP’s British Columbia Major Crime Section announced on November 10th that “it has been determined that no criminal charges should be laid.”
Silverfox died on December 2nd, 2008, due to blood poisoning and acute pneumonia after spending 13 hours in the RCMP’s Whitehorse detachment drunk tank. He had been celebrating his 43rd birthday with a bottle of vodka when police picked him up early in the morning. The Carmacks man vomited 26 times in his cell, and RCMP officers and jail guards mocked him while he lay in a pool of his own vomit, feces, and urine. RCMP audio and video footage revealed the he writhed in pain and was denied a mattress by an officer who told him “to sleep in his own shit.” He recieved no aid from aid from guards or police until the watch commander pointed out Silverfox was laying face down and unresponsive in his cell. He was pronounced dead at the Whitehorse hospital.
A coroner’s inquest completed in April ruled that Silverfox died of natural causes. His treatment at the hands of authority’s promted a territory-wide policing review and diciplinary measures against the officers and guards involved, along with a public apology from Yukon’s commanding officer who called the inaction by authorities “insensitive and callous treatment.” Silverfox’s family appealed the ruling, arguing the territorial cornoner showed bias in favour of the RCMP, and Silverfox’s daughter Deanna Lee Charlie has launched a civil lawsuit against the officers and gaurds involved. “Silverfox’s death would have been prevented with timely medical intervention,” stated Charlie in her original claim. In her ammended claim, Charlie stated the police officers and guards involved “were aware that their conduct was unlawful” and their actions were “based on entrenched racial stereotypes of First Nations people and deprived Silverfox of his right to life, liberty, and security of person.”
The Silverfox family, the Council of Yukon First Nations, the BC Civil Liberties Association, and the federal New Democrats have called for a full public inquiry into his death. Chris Roth, spokesperson for the Yukon Department of Justice said the policing review consultations are now complete and the department is preparing the report to be released by the end of December. A submission to the review by Aboriginal Courtworkers and Community Justice workers recognized a shift from proactive community involvement of the RCMP to a more limited role and arrogant attitude. They also noted excessive use of violence by RCMP, particularly in incidents with First Nations people, and stated that the policing review “is reactive, predicated upon high-profile incidents… only when there is an incident, then people care.”
Silverfox’s daughter was extremely traumatized by the ruling and declined to comment on the case. Her lawyer, Susan Roothman, said there will be a candlelight vigil for Silverfox on December 2nd, the second anniversary of his passing.