Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The family of Dale Culver (Gitxsan/Wet’suwet’en) has been waiting for nearly six years for RCMP officers to show their faces in court.
The family arrived at a Prince George court June 6 thinking they were finally going to see the five RCMP officers, who were charged after a 2017 incident in which Culver, a son, brother and father, died after an interaction with police.
On July 18, 2017, a call came into the Prince George RCMP detachment concerning someone on a bike who was presumed to be cruising a parking lot, possibly casing cars for theft. RCMP responded after what may have been several hours, and approached Culver, a 35-year-old Indigenous man riding a bike in the area.
More RCMP officers soon arrived, according to a complaint about the incident, filed to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP by the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).
“Cellphone footage and photos apparently related to the incident appear to show a large number of officers pinning a subject to the ground,” reads the complaint, adding eyewitness accounts said Culver had just exited a liquor store and the take down by police was unprovoked. Allegations were also made that police punched Culver while he was on the ground.
“We understand that the Coroner’s office determined that there was swelling of Mr. Culver’s brain,” reads the complaint. It was unclear to the BCCLA what circumstances existed to necessitate the use of force on Culver.
According to the RCMP and Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO), “the officers also used pepper spray on Mr. Culver before putting him in a police vehicle.”
When Culver appeared to be having trouble breathing, he was taken out of the police car after an ambulance arrived, but immediately collapsed and pronounced dead shortly after in hospital, the complaint continued.
The BCCLA complaint also was concerned about allegations that bystanders were directed by officers to delete the video footage evidence after the fact.
“If these allegations are true it would be evidence of an intention on the part of RCMP members concerned to hide the truth of what happened in this incident,” wrote the BCCLA.
It was the IIO that recommended prosecution services proceed with criminal charges against the officers. The IIO is a civilian-led police oversight agency responsible for conducting investigations into incidents of death or serious harm from the actions or inactions of police.
RCMP officers Paul Ste-Marie and Jean Francois Monette are both charged with manslaughter. RCMP officers Jon Eusebio Cruz, Arthur Dalman, and Clarence MacDonald are charged with attempting to obstruct justice.
Joining the family at court were representatives of the BCCLA, the BC Assembly of First Nations, BC Family Information Liaison Unit, and Pivot Legal Society. The BCCLA had been involved right from the start, when the family had questions about how IIO investigation procedures worked, said Meghan McDermott, policy director at BCCLA.
But officers Ste-Marie and Monette did not attend court that day, though they entered not guilty pleas. Their lawyers appeared remotely. The family also learned the arraignment of officers Cruz, Dalman, and MacDonald has been rescheduled to a separate date.
It was the third time the family had rallied to attend court.
“We traveled over 800 kilometres,” said Debbie Pierre, Culver’s cousin. It requires two days of travel back and forth for them to get to the hearings in Prince George.
“We attend these hearings to see how these officers will plead, but once again we are disheartened due to the latest delay. We keep going back home without answers,” she said.
“I think the delays are strategic,” said Meenakshi Mannoe, policing reform campaigner with Pivot Legal Society. “I don't know if it's intentionally this incompetent or if it's a happy accident (for the accused), but delays just mean the families are tortured for longer as they wait for answers.”
McDermott questioned whether the charges brought against the officers were appropriate. “For all we know, the charges are really weak compared to what the cops actually did,” McDermott said. “There’s so much the public doesn’t know. We shouldn’t have to wait so long.” Counsel for the RCMP are also seeking a publication ban and to close court proceedings to the public.
The family “vehemently disagrees with this application,” states a Pivot Legal Society press release.
“I am absolutely not okay with court being closed to the public,” said Culver’s daughter Lily Speed-Namox.
“Since day one, I have wanted to look the RCMP who killed my dad in the eyes. I want to watch them defend themselves and their decisions. How can someone look me in the eyes and tell me that my father didn’t die due to this interaction with the RCMP?”
She says she wants to look into the faces of the officers.
“I want these RCMP officers to look me in the eye and apologize for killing my dad. I want that not only for me, but also for my siblings, who are still children. When they grow up and ask, as they will, I want to tell them that there was an apology from the RCMP. After five-and-a-half years of waiting, we need to put faces to these officers’ names.”
The experience of the family is not unique, unfortunately. Twenty-two Indigenous people have died at the hands of RCMP since 2000, said Mannoe.
“And there hasn't been any effort at addressing murderous police forces,” she said.
Laura Holland (Wet’suwet’en, Laksilyu Clan) also attended court in support of Culver’s family. Her son Jared Lowndes was killed by Campbell River RCMP on July 8, 2021. Her grandfather’s clan, Tsayu, is shared with Culver’s family.
Gathering in support to help the Culver family also reminds the RCMP that people are seeing their actions and are speaking out, says Holland.
“There has already been too much deceit on the part of the RCMP,” says Holland.
“Immediately after Dale was murdered, the police narrative criminalized him. He was killed for being an Indigenous man on a bike. Police killings of Indigenous people must end. If you kill one of us, you kill all of us. We won’t back down.”
Pivot Legal Society’s statement released after the June 6 proceedings reads “The RCMP has already attempted to have the footage erased, and further attempts to limit public reporting (through a publication ban) is not in the public interest, nor does it reflect the wishes of Dale Culver’s family. There should be no silence when it comes to Indigenous deaths in custody.”
Holland said “There was a time when we were very, very quiet,” referring to the history of the RCMP and residential schools.
“All of the abuse and the crimes that the children witnessed, they weren't allowed to talk about it. They weren't allowed to feel anything. Well, now we're talking. Now we're feeling. Now we're acting. And there's nothing that they can do to stop us.”
Ste-Marie and Monette will face a pre-trial conference June 8 at 9:30 a.m. in Prince George. The arraignment of Cruz, Dalman, and MacDonald has been set for July 25 at 9 a.m. in Prince George.
Pivot Legal Society will hold a public panel June 8 at 6 p.m. in the Artspace at Books & Co., 1685 3rd Ave, Prince George. A livestream may be available. Follow Pivot on Facebook for a link.
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.