A New Brunswick family alleges the RCMP mistakenly told them their son was dead after a body was found in a public washroom outside Moncton City Hall earlier this week.
In an interview, Donna Price alleged the RCMP knocked on her door around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday and gave her the “dreaded news” — that her son was dead.
“It’s a little bit of a blur, because I just went into basically hysterics,” she told Global News.
The two officers were “very professional in their demeanor” and stayed for about 10 to 15 minutes, she said.
She said she and her son’s step-father, David, were in “shock” and spent the early hours of the morning informing family members, including her elderly parents and her son’s father and step-mother, and gathering friends and relatives at their home.
“We were preparing for a funeral. I had spoken to the coroner early in the morning, I had talked to the funeral home,” she said. “It was just surreal. We were grief-stricken, of course, everybody was grief-stricken.”
Tuesday afternoon, Price said a third party went to her son’s residence to collect some belongings and paperwork required by the coroner’s office.
That’s when Price got a call, saying her son was at his home — very much alive.
“I think I repeated at least ten times, ‘Say that again, say that again.’ And I was in disbelief,” she said.
“I remember almost screaming to the family like, ‘He’s alive!’ … it just felt like it was in a movie. It just felt like it was a time warp. I can’t even explain it.”
Relieved but bewildered, Donna contacted the RCMP to let them know her son was not dead, and was surprised to not get a proper explanation or an apology.
“I was not greeted with an over-sympathetic ear. I was dumbfounded by the lack of consideration,” she alleged.
“I had lots of questions, which he could not, or did not want to answer, or was stalling.”
Shortly after that, two more RCMP members visited the Price family, explaining that after the body was found, an image of the deceased person was broadcast to all active RCMP members.
One of them incorrectly identified him as their son, who was known to police.
“I said, ‘You did what?'” said Price. “If someone would have shown me the photo, I would have went, ‘That’s not my son,’ but that wasn’t done.”
She said her son has struggled with homelessness in the past, but had found a place to live in recent weeks. He also struggled with his mental health and been involved with the law, she said.
The man who was found dead in the bathroom was homeless, and Price wonders if more care would have been taken had his body been found in another area, or dressed better.
“(Unhoused people) have families, mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents. They have a story. And they should be treated with respect and dignity,” she said.
“I feel really deeply saddened for the deceased because 13 hours was robbed from their family. It was their grief. It was their time to grieve … and that was taken away from them.”
Police were negligent: lawyer
In an interview, Brian Murphy, a lawyer with Forté Law, said the RCMP were negligent and failed to take the steps to identify the body properly.
“All of it has caused a lot of anxiety and it’s all because of a negligent investigation,” he said.
Murphy said he met with the Prices Friday and they are in the process of gathering information for a lawsuit.
He said he issued a press release Friday to extend a request to the RCMP to apologize for the “screw-up that’s got to be corrected.”
In an email response, N.B. RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Hans Ouellette said Friday the agency is “aware of this matter” and is in “communication with family members about this situation.”
“This is not a criminal matter, but may soon be part of a legal process,” Ouellette said in the statement. “Any evidence pertinent to this matter could be presented as part of a judicial or internal process.
“The RCMP respects fair and impartial proceedings as part of the legal system. As such, it would be inappropriate to comment on evidence or other aspects that may be part of judicial or internal proceedings.”
More action needed to address homelessness: advocate
Meanwhile, the director of a Moncton overdose prevention site says New Brunswick’s decades-long inaction on homelessness is responsible for the man’s death.
Debby Warren, the executive director of Ensemble Moncton, told The Canadian Press her staff revived a man after an overdose at the site Monday evening, then spent hours trying to find a warm place for him to stay.
All beds were full at the city’s two shelters and Warren says she was told by the person who answered the provincial Department of Social Development’s emergency line that the province no longer covers emergency hotel room stays.
After the man in his late 20s was revived, he refused to go to hospital and left the centre after telling Ensemble staff he would try to get in to one of the already-full shelters.
That evening, Warren emailed the minister of social development, local members of the legislature and city officials about the “desperate” lack of emergency housing and said she was worried the man who survived an overdose would suffer hypothermia from sleeping in the cold.
Warren says the man, whose identity has not been made public, was found dead the next morning.
— with files from The Canadian Press, Karla Renic and Suzanne Lapointe