A trial relating to a 2014 incident in which a Wet’suwet’en elder claims police used excessive force against her began Nov. 27 at the B.C. Supreme Court in Smithers.
On the day in question, Irene Joseph told the Court she had gone to Mark’s Work Wearhouse to purchase a scarf and some pants she had seen in the store previously.
It was there she ran into another woman who she said she had met before but whose name she had forgotten. The woman had allegedly been stealing clothing, something Joseph testified she was unaware of.
After finding the scarf, but unable to find the jeans she was looking for, Joseph paid for her item and left the store.
She was met outside by an RCMP officer she would later learn was Const. Darrin Meier, who asked her for the other woman’s name.
Joseph said she told Meier it was embarrassing being questioned by officers right outside the store, especially considering she had not done anything, and asked him if they could move to the side of the building.
“I told him I wanted to go to the side of the store and he could talk to me there,” Joseph said.
“But he was pushing me, asking me who she was and he just [wouldn’t] stop.”
Joseph then tried to take a seat on her walker (which she had been using since 2008 due to a number of debilitating physical conditions including surgery she received to have her ankle fused together) and have a cigarette, but said the officer once again intervened.
She said he stopped her from grabbing her cigarettes and began to rummage through her purse.
Then Joseph said Meier attempted to cuff her.
She resisted, adding she felt she had done nothing wrong.
“I wasn’t gonna get cuffed for something I didn’t do,” Joseph said.
“I wouldn’t let him do it because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Joseph said she then fell to the ground after Meier’s feet knocked the front part of her leg, sending her head first to the pavement.
A struggle ensued with the officer, who Joseph said was still trying to cuff her.
He was unable to pull Joseph’s arms out from underneath her, she testified, because she interlocked her fingers together tightly underneath her body.
While on the ground, Joseph said the officer, who she testified felt like he weighed around 300 pounds in full uniform, stood on her left ankle for what she estimated to be between 10 and 15 minutes although it felt “like hours.”
After a period of time, another RCMP officer arrived at the scene.
At this point, Joseph said Meier released his hold on her and that, after speaking with the other officer, the two questioned her for a few more minutes then left.
She said the entire ordeal left her upset and confused as to why she was being treated the way she was by the officer.
“I just walked back to my walker and sat down — I just felt so dirty being accused.”
Joseph said the event as a whole has caused her extreme pain, both physical pain in the immediate aftermath of the incident and ongoing mental stress in the years following.
In his opening statements, counsel for the plaintiff Ian Lawson characterized Joseph as not being in good health and having lots of anxiety leading up to the court day.
He said the incident has caused her ongoing psychological stress, including fear of leaving her house to venture out into the community she has lived in for more than three decades.
Before the trial got underway, Madam Justice Brenda Brown refused an application to adjourn filed by defence counsel.
The application centred around a defence argument that they did not have access to Joseph’s complete medical records — specifically records preceding the incident.
The defence said that while they had received a number of pre-incident medical records, those did not include all the records the defence had hoped to receive before beginning trial.
Additionally they said they only received those incomplete pre-incident records Nov. 22.
Lawson said the first time the defence explicitly requested the records was last week and he got them to the defence as quickly as possible.
He added that he saw the request as mostly irrelevant as it was pertinent to physical injury, whereas Lawson said Joseph’s lingering injuries from the incident today are psychological, namely a constant fear to leave the house she has lived in for the last 33 years.
In his rebuttal to the defence’s request Lawson did not mince words.
“She’s afraid to leave home now — that’s the case.”
Lawson said the defence will be presenting a number of eyewitnesses to the incident, as well as the plaintiff’s sister and a mental health professional.
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach (who was Smithers mayor at the time of the incident) was also slated to testify before 11 a.m. on Nov. 27, but was unable due to the trial beginning late.
Consequently, both Bachrach and Lawson have expressed concerns about fitting the testimony into the former’s schedule.
The court is scheduled to hear Meier’s testimony on Nov. 29 before taking a break and resuming Dec. 4. The case is scheduled to wrap up on Dec. 6 or early the following week.
The Interior News has reached out to Lawson for a comment on how much in damages the plaintiff is seeking.