The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council is calling for a review of police conduct toward Indigenous people after the Independent Investigation Office cleared Port Alberni RCMP members following the in-custody death of 18-year-old Jocelyn Nynah Marsha George in June 2016.
Tribal Council president Judith Sayers said the RCMP needs to review its own policies on how members deal with intoxicated individuals in their jails. She will be recommending that the NTC formally approach the RCMP asking for a review.
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“We’ll bring it to the directors for their consideration,” Sayers said. “I think it’s a good idea. We have to make preventative measures and it’s clear they aren’t working.
“I think we could look at things in a much more comprehensive way.”
George had been in jail at the Port Alberni RCMP detachment twice over the space of a day and a half in late June 2016 when she was taken to West Coast General Hospital in medical distress, then airlifted to Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. She died the night of June 24, 2016, of heart failure. The IIO investigated whether the RCMP failed to provide the necessaries of life to George; the acting watch commander did not personally check on her, as policy dictates, and a request to “push food and fluid” was also ignored. A coroner’s report noted George died of drug-induced myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) due to the toxic effects of methamphetamine and cocaine, and that minimal food and water intake was not a contributing factor in her death.
The NTC announced in a statement Tuesday that it would like to see comprehensive procedures to perform regular personal checks on individuals taken into custody that are clearly intoxicated or under the influence of drugs to ensure their condition is not deteriorating and impairing the health of the individual.
“I think they should be working with medical people to say how often (incarcerated persons) should be checked. If (Jocelyn George) had been checked sooner, would it have helped?
“This is the third Nuu-chah-nulth person that has died in cells. We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Sayers said.
Police services in Canada are in need of a thorough review of their policies and procedures, she said, especially in light of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women report and the sheer number of women listed as missing or murdered. Sayers said society needs to start questioning whether enough preventative work is being done, asking what police procedures are and whether they are good enough.
“I don’t know that we’ve got the answers, but certainly if we work with the RCMP, get medical people involved…let’s just make this better.”
Sayers said there is an opportunity to work with the IIO and ensure that its operation reflects reconciliation and respect of Indigenous Peoples.
Chief Richard Lucas of the Hesquiaht First Nation said Jocelyn George’s family is upset with the findings of the IIO report, and feel that George’s treatment while in police custody was “discriminatory and unfair.
“The family asked was she moving or was she twitching (in the jail cell),” Lucas said. “The family asked don’t you think it would have been appropriate to go into the jail cell and check her? It was something that could have helped, at least to check to make sure she was OK and not twitching.”
While paramedics and police officers were interviewed for the inquiry, Lucas said the family members at the hospital were not interviewed, and that doesn’t sit well with them.
“We have a lot of stories of people that have died in jail cells,” added Lucas.
Les Doiron, president of the Yuulu?il?ath (Ucluelet) First Nation, also called for a full inquiry into George’s death. One of Doiron’s brothers died in a Vancouver jail cell in 1980 at the age of 20, and Doiron said society needs to take a hard look at how it deals with people who are incarcerated.
“I find it very disturbing that there’s nothing in place to have any type of protection for a person that’s been put into a jail and ends up dying,” Doiron said. “There doesn’t seem to be any responsibility attached to the RCMP…It seems like the RCMP is investigating themselves.
“When a young teenage girl of 18 dies in a jail cell, we in a so-called civilized society need to step back and look at ourselves,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “How did she end up there? What was done to help her? What and how can the system improve?
“I’m still asking these questions from 1980, and today I have to ask them again…A young life gone too soon.”