The national union representing RCMP officers is pushing back against criticism by the family of a man killed by RCMP in Campbell River on July 8 in a statement that suggests Jared Lowndes’s own actions led to his death.
“We send our sympathies to the Lowndes family and friends following the death of Jared Lowndes last week,” Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said in the statement.
“If Mr. Lowndes had not, however, evaded police, stabbed PSD [police service dog] Gator and injured an RCMP officer, and instead turned himself in to the Courts to comply with a Warrant for weapons offenses, he could be alive today.”
The union’s statement was “devastating” for Lowndes’s mother, Laura Holland, said Fay Blaney, a close friend and great-aunt to Lowndes’s children.
“She was furious. She’s so hurt. She’s so wounded with the loss of him to begin with,” Blaney said.
Sauvé also emphasized the need to avoid speculation or “inappropriate external influence” while an investigation is ongoing by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., tasked with looking into incidents involving officers that result in serious harm or death.
The union did not make someone available for an interview Friday.
Lowndes, a 38-year-old Indigenous father of two young girls, was shot and killed on the morning of July 8 outside a Campbell River Tim Hortons, after an officer tried to stop his vehicle for an outstanding warrant.
A police dog also died in the incident, and the dog handler was treated for knife wounds, the B.C. RCMP said in a statement issued hours after the shooting.
The RCMP issued two more statements later that afternoon, detailing police dog Gator’s service and thanking the Campbell River community for its support following the dog’s death. Over the weekend, Campbell River residents came out to watch a procession of RCMP vehicles in honour of Gator.
Suggesting that if Lowndes had behaved differently he could still be alive, while stressing the need for due process during the investigation, is “really quite dissonant,” said David Black, an associate professor in the school of communication and culture at Royal Roads University.
“It seems that they’re getting out ahead of the facts. And, you know, it’s not for them to determine the outcome of this investigation,” Black said.
Black also criticized the RCMP statements mourning the dog as tone deaf, particularly at a time when the lack of value placed on Indigenous lives in Canada has been thrust into the national spotlight with the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked graves at former residential schools.
“Dogs are lovely things, but their lives are simply not equivalent to a human being, no matter how guilty or innocent, you know, that person is,” Black said.
The communication from both the RCMP and the police union is hurting a charged situation, Black said.
Lowndes’s family has said they believe the RCMP’s tributes to the slain dog have fuelled racist reactions to the man’s death. A memorial to Lowndes has been disturbed several times, with tributes from his daughters torn and signs placed face down.
In person and online, his family and friends have been told his life was worth less than the dog’s.
Sgt. Chris Manseau of the B.C. RCMP said he doesn’t believe the RCMP statement was tone deaf.
He said Gator was a beloved police dog and a member of the community.
The statements came from officers who were close to Gator and had worked with him for a long time, he said.
“I don’t think it was intended to make light of the loss of any other life. It was from the heart,” Manseau said.
There isn’t a history of news releases about RCMP incidents like the one issued by the National Police Federation because the union is relatively new, certified in 2019 to represent about 20,000 RCMP officers across the country, but it resembles statements from police unions in the U.S, said Rob Gillezeau, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Victoria with expertise in policing and use of lethal force.
Gillezeau noted the union’s characterization of use of force as “exceedingly rare,” saying Canada has relatively high rates of lethal force compared to other Western countries.
“We look good compared to the United States, but compared to other Western countries, we’ve actually got quite high levels. They’re increasing markedly,” he said.
Sauvé said in his statement that the RCMP responds to an average of nearly three million calls for service annually and less than 0.1 per cent result in any use of force.
Using data from a CBC investigation on deadly force, Gillezeau determined that in a five-year period from 2000 to 2004, the average annual number of civilians killed by law enforcement in Canada was 17.8. That number nearly doubled to 34.2 in the five-year period from 2015 to 2020, he said.
Indigenous people are overrepresented in these figures. While they represent only about five per cent of the total population in Canada, Indigenous people made up 14.6 per cent of the total deaths from law enforcement from 2000-2004, and 19.5 per cent in the later period, Gillezeau said.
“This is something that is real, that is increasing, and that ideally, everybody should want to tackle,” Gillezeau said. “Police officers, society more generally, no one gains from the use of lethal force. It is something that we want to avoid in all circumstances.”
The RCMP has not publicly provided details about the warrant that sparked the incident. Sauvé refers to a warrant for weapons offences in his statement.
Court documents reveal a warrant for Lowndes was issued on March 21, 2021 for allegedly breaching his conditional sentence order.
In December 2020, Lowndes was convicted in Vancouver Supreme Court of two firearms offences dating back more than seven years to April 2013. He was convicted of possessing a restricted firearm with ammunition and contravening a regulation regarding storage or transportation of a firearm and restricted weapons.
Ronald MacDonald, chief civilian director of the IIO, said the reason for the warrant and date of the offences will be relevant considerations in the investigation.
Rob Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said IIO investigators will likely focus on establishing what happened at the Tim Hortons based on forensic evidence and witness statements.
He said if there’s a current warrant, there are legal grounds to make an arrest, and failing to do so could open an officer to criticism. Despite the age of the firearms offences, officers would likely have approached with extreme caution and an expectation that firearms could be involved in an interaction, he said.
The nature of the alleged breach of conditions is an important issue, he said. “Was the breach so egregious that it warranted the kind of intervention that actually occurred?”
— With a file from Louise Dickson