By Lloyd Dolha
The tasering of an 11-year-old Aboriginal boy by RCMP in Prince George has First Nations leaders calling for a full investigation into the incident. The Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council (CSTC) expressed concern over the conduct of officers involved in the incident that occurred on Thursday April 7th at a group home on the outskirts of the city. “There is something systemically wrong with the RCMP training if members have to taser an 11-year-old child,” said CSTC Tribal Chief David Luggi. “We can recall the incident in 2003 when Clayton Alvin Wyllie was hog-tied and tasered repeatedly and later succumbed to his injuries. [The] CSTC will be monitoring closely this incident and subsequent investigations.”
RCMP responded to a 911 call about an assault at the group home. The young boy, suspected of stabbing of a 37-year-old staff member, was found at a neighbouring property. Officers tasered the boy after he emerged during the arrest. “Efforts were made to get the individual out of the house, and when he emerged from the home a conducted energy weapon was deployed by a member,” stated Prince George Supt. Brenda Butterworth-Carr. The boy was assessed in hospital and returned to government care.
The West Vancouver Police are conducting an investigation into the incident. RCMP Sgt. Paul Skelton said two detectives arrived in Prince George to begin the initial investigation on April 10th. Aboriginal leaders, however, are calling for an independent investigation into the incident because the boy was First Nations and RCMP shouldn’t be investigating themselves. Last year, Justice Braidwood made several recommendations after the 2007 tasering death of Robert Dsiekanski, stating that RCMP shouldn’t be investigating themselves and recommending protocols regarding the use of tasers. “We expect a full investigation into this incident and recommend to the Solicitor-General to follow through with Braidwood’s recommendation of a civil entity to investigate incidents such as these,” said CSTC Tribal Chief Luggi.
BC’s Representative for Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has also called for an independent investigation, and CSTC Vice Tribal Chief Terry Teegee agrees. “The public needs to know if protocols were followed, and if not, the RCMP and the officers under question need to be held accountable for their actions,” said Teegee. “What is most difficult to comprehend is that this is the youngest known individual who was ever tasered in Canada, and we need answers as to why this happened.”
The Union of BC Indians Chiefs is also demanding a formal independent inquiry. “How is the provincial government going to address the trauma suffered by this extremely vulnerable Aboriginal child?” demanded UBCIC president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. “Equally important, how is the province going to respond to the lager context of deeply-rooted and interconnected socio-economic issues that contributed to his being in care in the first place.” The Ministry of Children and Families said the boy was the only child living with two adults supervising him 24 hours per day. Such arrangements are made for kids with mental health issues or behavioural difficulties.
The UBCIC points out that over half of all children in care in the province are Aboriginal, despite the fact that Aboriginal children account for only 9% of the total child population in British Columbia. The UBCIC wants a comprehensive investigation of protocols, accreditation, training, and evaluation standards for group homes and specialized facilities, as well as an explanation for the exorbitantly disproportionate number of Aboriginal children in care and the reasons for using a taser with potential to inflict serious (even lethal) harm on an eleven-year-old child.
A cardiologist who testified at the Braidwood Inquiry said the RCMP are lucky they didn’t kill the boy because the distance between the chest wall and the heart is much closer in children, increasing the danger of fatality. “Unquestionably this must be the last time that a child is tasered,” said Chief Phillip. “The eleven-year-old Aboriginal child who received such physically and emotionally abusive treatment from the RCMP must be given every possible chance for success and recovery from the impact and damage of this experience.” The UBCIC is demanding an urgent high level cross-ministry response from the province and feels the province should work with Aboriginal leadership to immediately create strategies to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care. The UBCIC also wants full implementation of the Braidwood Inquiry’s recommendation for a civilian-based criminal investigative body to investigate all police-related incidents throughout the province.
The RCMP public complaints commission had been monitoring the case since the incident occurred and felt it necessary to initiate its own complaint. “I am initiating this complaint with the full appreciation that the West Vancouver Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the incident at the request of the RCMP. It is not my intention to prejudice that investigation,” said Ian McPhail, interim commissioner. “However, given the ongoing expressions of public concern as they relate to this matter and to the use of CEWs (conducted energy weapons) in respect to children, I am satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to investigate the circumstances surrounding this incident as well as the handling thereof.” The commission investigation will investigate conduct of the officers involved, as well as RCMP response to the incident, and will examine whether using a taser during the boy’s arrest complies with RCMP policies relating to the use of force. The officer who deployed the taser has been put on administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.