The RCMP shooting death of a Opitsaht man has prompted B.C. First Nations leaders to call for justice reforms to halt what they describe as an epidemic of deadly force against Indigenous people.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, Pacheedaht First Nation, the First Nations Leadership Council, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit, and Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs are seeking a “fully independent and transparent investigation” into the death of Julian Jones, 28, on Meares Island near Tofino on Saturday night.
The Tribal Council “must be involved in every step of the investigation,” the leaders said a Monday statement.
Judith Sayers, Tribal Council president, said in an interview, “We have to find other solutions for these kinds of situations.”
If police feel compelled to fire, Sayers asked them to aim for an arm or somewhere less invasive. More training is needed in de-escalation, she said.
Sayers, who does not know the details of what took place, questioned whether the RCMP is the best agency to deal with domestic matters.
As for the future, “The political pressure from First Nations means that something has got to be done so I certainly have hope. I just think we need to come up with some concrete solutions.”
B.C. RCMP did not have immediate response to the letter from Indigenous leaders.
Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin issued a statement: “My heart goes out to the family and all of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation who lost a member this weekend. This morning, I spoke to the Nuu-chah-nulth president to express my concern and condolences for the Nation’s loss.
“While I cannot comment on any specifics, as the matter is under investigation, I understand the B.C. RCMP has notified B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office,” Rankin said.
“The IIO’s mandate is to ensure that all police-involved incidents that result in death or serious harm in B.C. are dealt with promptly, appropriately, and independently.”
The First Nation leaders are calling for an Indigenous person to be appointed to the investigation process.
Few details have been released. Jones died after two RCMP officers from Tofino went to the Opitsaht community on Meares Island to respond to a call that a woman was being held against her will. Police said that after arriving at a residence, an “interaction took place and one male was shot and another was taken into custody.”
The woman was found and taken to hospital to be assessed.
The Opitsaht community is part of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, with more than 10,000 members.
This is the second time in less than a year that a Tla-o-qui-aht member has died after being shot by a police officer.
Chantel Moore, 26, left Port Alberni for New Brunswick to be with her family. She was shot in June of last year during a wellness check by police in Edmundston, New Brunswick.
Police said she threatened an officer with a knife but her family does not support that view, describing her as petite and harmless.
B.C. First Nations leaders said in their statement that they never received answers on why Moore was shot and that a list of demands did not receive a response. Their requests included mandatory police body cameras which “would leave less doubt about the use of deadly force and hold all accountable for their actions.”
The leaders’ statement said, “The use of deadly force by Canadian police forces against Indigenous peoples is an epidemic in this country.”
Inquiries, studies, reports, and a First Nations Justice Strategy in B.C. were set up to address the need for justice reform, the leaders said in their statement. “Despite this, our citizens continue to die as a result of police shootings. The lack of action on implementing these proposed solutions means more senseless shootings.”