Family members of a British Columbia Indigenous man who died after being arrested by RCMP officers expect to wait years before learning if five Mounties will be convicted of manslaughter and obstruction in the case.
A statement released by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says the family of Arthur Culver, who was also known as Dale Culver, “remains unwavering” in its search for justice, despite the wait.
Culver, from the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations, was arrested in Prince George on July 18, 2017, after police were called about a man allegedly casing vehicles, and the independent office that investigated the case says the 35-year-old was pepper-sprayed during a struggle, had trouble breathing and died in custody.
The civil liberties association statement says although the independent review in 2019 found “reasonable grounds” to believe two officers may have committed offences related to use of force, and three others may have obstructed justice, the Crown was not handed a final report until 2020, and charge approval took nearly three more years.
Culver’s family says the delay has been too long and his aunt, Virginia Pierre, says relatives “cannot shake off the devastation until justice is done.”
The BC Prosecution Service said Wednesday that constables Paul Ste-Marie and Jean Monette have been charged with manslaughter while Sgt. Jon Eusebio Cruz and constables Arthur Dalman and Clarence MacDonald are accused of attempting to obstruct justice.
“This is hard on every single one of us. And we hurt each time we see police involved deaths in the news,” Pierre said in the statement.
“It happens way too much. Too many have died in the hands of the RCMP. The police are supposed to protect us, not kill us.”
Debbie Pierre, Culver’s next of kin, said his youngest child was less than six months old at the time of his death and will be turning six in a few weeks.
“We hear that there may be a court hearing by mid-March related to the charges, and we know that it may take many more years before any court decisions are made,” she said in the statement.
The First Nations Leadership Council said in a statement Thursday that it supported the charges and “stands with Dale Culver’s family and the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en communities who have been struggling for justice and answers for his violent death.”
Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations said in the statement that the charges were a “positive step” toward a national effort to ensure Indigenous and racialized people in Canada “are not subject to the discrimination and injustice that is so deeply inherent in the justice system.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he was “relieved” by the charges, according to the council’s statement. He added that “investigations into RCMP conduct, including police-involved deaths, are taking far too long.”
Roughly six months after Culver’s death, the BC Civil Liberties Association wrote a letter to the chairperson of the civilian review and complaints commission for the RCMP, saying it was aware of reports from eyewitnesses that Culver “was taken forcibly to the ground by RCMP members immediately after exiting a liquor store, apparently unprovoked.”
The letter also raised what it called “troubling allegations” that RCMP members told witnesses to delete any cellphone video.
“This would provide a strong basis on which to question the accuracy of certain RCMP members’ statements to investigators and notes, as well as RCMP public statements,” the association said.
The Canadian Press