Dale Culver died in 2017 in police custody. His family says the legal process has been ‘horrendous’ but they’ll keep fighting for justice.
The Tyee: A family’s fight for justice has been further delayed as hearings set to begin today in a Prince George courtroom were postponed at the last minute.
At a news conference held Monday, Dale Culver’s family said they are resolute in seeking justice and bringing about systemic change after the Indigenous man died during an altercation with RCMP officers nearly six years ago. But they said it’s been a struggle to navigate the “horrendous” and “protectionist” justice system. “Where was the protection for Dale?” Debbie Pierre, Culver’s cousin, asked. “Where was the protection for his children, his families, the Gitxsan, the Wet’suwet’en Nation?”
Culver died July 18, 2017, during an altercation with police. Last month, the BC Prosecution Service announced manslaughter charges against two Prince George RCMP officers related to his death. Three additional officers face charges of attempting to obstruct justice following Culver’s death.
“It’s been a pretty tough six years,” Culver’s aunt, Virginia Pierre, said on Monday, describing how her nephew had turned his life around and was excited about the arrival of his new baby. She said it was several days before the family learned about his death. “Seventy-two hours before we find out he’s gone. Now we’re waiting over six years. Then, all of a sudden, nothing is happening tomorrow,” she said. “There’s something wrong here. We really need justice for Dale and for other victims who died at the hands of the RCMP.”
Lily Speed-Namox, Culver’s eldest daughter, said her father didn’t die in the hospital, as the family first believed from police. “He died on the street and was later declared dead in the hospital,” she said, adding that she was woken up at 3:30 a.m. and told of her father’s death three days after he died.
“I was scared, angry and confused as to how people who are supposed to help and guide and keep people safe could take those people’s lives away,” she said. “I feel unsafe and scared knowing for so long that the people responsible for his death are not only still working and on duty as RCMP officers in Prince George, but that they still get to find the joy in spending time with their families.”
Four of the officers charged in Culver’s death remain on active duty while one officer is on administrative leave for unrelated reasons, RCMP has confirmed.
According to reports from B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office, which investigates police incidents causing death or serious harm, RCMP said that they responded to a call of a man “casing” parked vehicles in downtown Prince George at about 10:30 p.m. on the night Culver died. The officers allege that he attempted to flee by bike and was then pepper sprayed while being taken into custody. Culver collapsed and died shortly after, according to the IIO report.
“For my dad to just be profiled as an Indigenous man on a bike in the wrong place at the wrong time speaks volumes about the systemic racism in the RCMP,” Speed-Namox said. “No one deserves to die in the hands of RCMP and no one deserves to die alone. We need to see some serious changes in our system and how the RCMP deal with those kinds of situations.
“I refuse to let my dad’s death be forgotten about without some kind of change.”
The family wants an apology, not just from the RCMP but from the officers involved, as an “important part of the healing process,” she said.
Debbie Pierre said videos viewed by the family of Culver’s death are “devastating” but have also been instrumental in moving the process forward. “Otherwise, we would never have known. We would never have known what happened,” she said. “It would have been just swept under the carpet as another Indigenous person gone.” She added that it’s “rare” for families get to point where officers are charged.
“We’ve had to navigate a system that is just horrendous,” she said.
Pierre credited the BC Civil Liberties Association for pushing for justice and said the family will continue its fight in the hopes that other families will not have to suffer through the same experience.
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“We need justice for the generations of unnamed Wet’suwet’en, unnamed Indigenous people, across Canada and British Columbia,” Pierre said. In addition to her cousin, she named Everett Patrick, Jared Lowndes and Barrett Jack, all Indigenous men who died in police custody over the past three years. The IIO has recommended charges against the officers involved in Lowndes’ and Patrick’s deaths.
“These are immediate individuals that have connections to the Wet’suwet’en,” Pierre said. “There are many, many more.”
Speaking at Monday’s news conference, Regional Chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations Terry Teegee said he knew Culver and was related to Patrick. “We are the original peoples in this country,” he said. Yet, he added, Indigenous people are over-represented in things like the judicial system and deaths due to COVID-19 and the poisoned drug crisis. “Things have to change.”
Teegee pointed to full implementation of the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and efforts to update B.C.’s Police Act as ways to better align the justice system with Indigenous perspectives.
Culver’s family said they learned over the weekend that today’s hearings would be postponed and were not given a reason. They are currently re-scheduled for May 2.
Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.