Attack on police chief undermined healing ceremony for Indigenous woman, says family

The family of a Vancouver Island Indigenous woman killed during a police wellness check in New Brunswick last year says the effort to seek justice has been overshadowed by a weekend attack on Victoria’s police chief.

Chantel Moore’s family and the chief say it’s time to focus on Moore again.

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A video statement issued Sunday by Moore’s family and police Chief Del Manak follows the assault on Manak one day earlier at a memorial for Moore outside the legislature.

The chief had been invited to speak Saturday at the memorial by Moore’s mother, Martha Martin, and had been honoured in a blanketing ceremony according to Indigenous custom. As Manak, who was not in uniform, stood chatting in the crowd, a woman approached him from behind and poured liquid down his back. He was not injured.

The woman walked away and as officers moved in to arrest her, her supporters started challenging police. Five people were taken into custody, including the suspect in the attack, who was not invited to the ceremony.

Hjalmer Wenstob, who speaks for Moore’s family, says her mother is “disheartened” to see how the event to demand justice for Moore was undermined.

Wenstob says the family opposes violence and apologized to Manak in accordance with Nuu-chah-nulth traditions.

Wenstob says media reports focused only on the assault and the actions of a few people, rather than highlighting the work to find justice for Moore, who was killed in June 2020 in Edmonston, N.B., during a police wellness check.

“Our family was disheartened further to see Chantel’s name used to forward others’ agendas and not in the direction of a better future,” Wenstob says in the statement.

“The event was planned and organized as a peaceful event. We cannot stand idly by and see the good work that has been done taken advantage of to create further division.”

Moore’s family has made eight demands ranging from body cameras for all police officers to a better system of handling wellness checks, and acknowledgment and action to address racism and discrimination.

After the arrests, protesters sat down in the middle of the road outside police headquarters. Traffic was disrupted on Vancouver and Quadra streets for several hours. The five people arrested in connection with the incident were later released from custody on a promise to appear in court.

Manak posted on Twitter that he’s “still processing” what happened. “This cowardly incident won’t define me or our @vicpdcanada officers,” he wrote. “Grateful to Chantel Moore’s family for jumping to my defence, to our community for their outpouring of love & support & to the brave and dedicated #VicPD officers who shine 24/7.”

Manak says it’s time to refocus on work being done by Moore’s family to prevent similar deaths.

In a statement Saturday night, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, co-chairs of the police board, called on “everyone in the community to stand down from attacks and to express differences of opinion respectfully and in a way that will help to build understanding and allow much needed-healing to happen.”

The mayors acknowledged a “long history of mistrust” between police in Canada and Indigenous communities. “We know that there is a lot of healing to do. That is precisely why the Chief was invited by Moore’s family to participate in the memorial; he has been working closely with them since her death and they immediately and publicly denounced this act of violence against the Chief Manak.”

Helps and Desjardins said that for the past few years, Victoria police have been working closely with local Indigenous communities to rebuild trust and understanding.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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