The family of a First Nations man who died while being arrested by Prince George RCMP is frustrated a court case for RCMP officers charged in the incident has been delayed.
Dale Culver, a 35-year-old father of three and member of the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan First Nations, was pepper sprayed and stopped breathing during an arrest on July 18, 2017.
The Independent Investigations Office said officers had been responding to reports of a man on a bike “casing” parked vehicles in Prince George at the time.
Two officers have been charged with manslaughter, while three others have been charged with attempted obstruction of justice in the case.
On Monday, the family said it had been given less than a day’s notice that court hearings set for Tuesday had been pushed back to May 2.
“I feel unsafe and scared knowing for so long that the people who are responsible for his death are not only still working and on duty as RCMP officers in Prince George, but that they still get to find the joy in spending time with their families and loved ones and to experience all the things every normal family should be able to experience,” Culver’s eldest daughter Lily Speed-Namox said Monday.
“Like graduating and finishing school, getting your licence, starting your own life — things that me nor my 10-year-old brother or six-year-old sister will get to experience any more.”
Culver’s family has been vocal in its concerns about the length of time it has taken for charges to be approved in the case, and said Monday’s news continued a distressing pattern.
“We’re waiting over six years. And then all of a sudden nothing is happening tomorrow,” Culver’s aunt Virginia Pierre said.
“There’s something wrong here. We really need justice for Dale and for other victims died in the hands of the RCMP. They’re supposed to protect people. This is not right what’s going on, it’s just happening way too much. Too many people, not only Indigenous people.”
Const. Paul Ste-Marie and Const. Jean Francois Monette are charged with manslaughter in Culver’s death.
Const. Arthur Dalman, Const. Clarence (Alex) Alexander MacDonald and Sgt. Bayani (Jon) Eusebio Cruz are facing charges of attempting to obstruct justice.
The BC RCMP has previously said Const. MacDonald was currently on administrative leave for reasons unrelated to the charges, while the four other officers remained on operational status.
Speed-Namox said she believed her father had been profiled for being an Indigenous man, and called for action to address systemic racism in the RCMP.
“We need to see some serious changes in our system in how the RCMP deal with those kinds of situations. I refuse to let my dad’s death be forgotten about without some kind of change,” she said.
“He was a person, he wasn’t an item or a piece of paper. He was a person just like you or I. He deserved to live. We only hope that the appropriate justice will be served, however this will turn out in the end.”
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Monday that the province is moving ahead with changes to B.C.’s Police Act recommended by an all-party committee last year.
Some of the changes will deal with police accountability, training and systemic racism, he said.
“My ministry has been working on those recommendations to start the implementation. The new legislation is scheduled for later this year to be introduced in B.C.,” Farnworth said.
“It’s to ensure that one, investigations such as we’ve seen in Prince George don’t take as long as they have in the past, and that the system works to ensure that justice takes place, because as we’ve seen in the past, Indigenous people are significantly over-represented in our correctional facilities, and in too many cases have suffered fatalities, and that’s simply not acceptable.”
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the BC Civil Liberties Association and the National Police Federation, which represents RCMP officers, have also raised concerns about the length of time it took for charges to be approved in the case.