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Justice for First Nations Deaths in Police Custody

Vancouver Rally in Support of the Public Inquiry into the Death of Frank Paul

by Sandra Cuffe Original Peoples, →Dominion Stories

Working Together. Rally Honouring Frank Paul and other First Nations People who Died in Police Custody
Working Together. Rally Honouring Frank Paul and other First Nations People who Died in Police Custody
Indigenous Action Movement Rally in Honour of Frank Paul
Indigenous Action Movement Rally in Honour of Frank Paul

Also posted by SandraCuffe:

Two days before the continuation of a  public inquiry into the death of an indigenous man while in police custody, two dozen people attended a lively demonstration organized by the Indigenous Action Movement on November 1st. With drums in hand, the rally to honour Frank Paul, a Mi'kmaq First Nations man, and all indigenous men and women who have died in police custody in British Columbia gathered at the intersection of Granville and West Georgia in downtown Vancouver.

The evening of December 5th, 1998, Frank Paul was arrested for public intoxication and taken to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) detention facility on Main Street. He was later dragged out of the cell and left in an alley in East Vancouver, where his body was found hours later. An autopsy determined hypothermia to be the cause of death.

"To my knowledge, no police officer in our entire history [of B.C.] has ever been prosecuted [for the death of a First Nations person in custody]," denounced Cameron Ward, one of the lawyers involved in the Davies Commission Inquiry into the Death of Frank Paul.

In terms of the VPD officers involved in Frank Paul's detention and death, two officers were suspended for one and two days, for neglect of duty and discreditable conduct, respectively. After years of opposition to a Public Hearing under the Police Act by the Police Complaints Commissioner, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General announced a public inquiry into Frank Paul's death on February 22, 2007.

The exact numbers of First Nations men and women who have died during their arrest or while in police custody in the province are unclear. Conservative lists include more than one hundred names, while others estimate the total to be in the hundreds.

"It's still happening," explained Curtis Ahenakew to the rally. "That's why we're here today."

Speaker after speaker spoke of family and friends who died in police custody in the lower mainland and around the province, particularly in central and northern British Columbia.

"I for myself was in custody and was beaten to a pulp in a Prince Albert jail by two police officers," said Ahenakew.

He explained that two of his cousins died in police custody in Saskatoon, where the ongoing practice of detaining First Nations people and dropping them off on the outskirts of the city in the dead of winter did garner some media attention several years ago. Ahenakew also told of similar accounts within Greater Vancouver, where young Aboriginal men and women have been stranded in Richmond and other outlying areas, often stripped of their clothing.

As the rally crossed West Georgia street to the court facility where the public inquiry will reconvene this week, the participants formed a circle blocking traffic for three minutes. While many bystanders and pedestrians were curious or supportive, the action impeding traffic also provoked anger.

"All of these people around here, you have to stop. You have to listen. You have to speak up," exclaimed First Nations activist Carol Martin, addressing the seemingly indifferent hundreds of commuters scurrying out of the downtown core after 5pm.

"We have to change this society's attitude about who we are as First Nations people," added Martin, referring to the apparent apathy of the general population and the underlying racism surrounding the Frank Paul case.

Almost twelve years after Frank Paul's death, the small group of people committed to justice for all of the First Nations people who have died in police custody continues to take to the streets to raise awareness and support. Walk4Justice co-founder Gladys Radek explained that the long struggle for the public inquiry into Paul's death has also strengthened the struggle for an inquiry into the missing and murdered First Nations women in British Columbia and across Canada.

The Davies Commission Inquiry into the Death of Frank Paul will resume at 10am on Wednesday, November 3rd in the Federal Court facility at 701 West Georgia. The inquiry is open to the public, although recording devices are not permitted. The Indigenous Action Movement and supporters will hold a rally at noon on November 3rd directly outside the court building.

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