The death of a First Nations man at the hands of police in the parking lot of a Vancouver Island Tim Hortons this summer is underscoring the issue of community involvement in probing similar cases.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Pivot Legal say an ongoing independent investigation into the death Jared Lowndes should include Indigenous representation. Lowndes, 38, was shot by an officer outside the Willow Point Tim Hortons in Campbell River on July 8.
The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) is a civilian-led police oversight agency responsible for conducting investigations into incidents of death or serious harm that may have been the result of the actions or inactions of a police officer.
In a September letter to the IIO and the attorney general, the three groups ask for the appointment of an Indigenous civilian monitor to the IIO, to review and assess the integrity of its Lowndes investigation and in any similar matter involving an Indigenous person. They also ask for increased support for survivors and families to access justice in cases like this.
“The investigation into Mr. Jared Lowndes’ death … has been open for (three) months without any public update regarding the appointments of an Indigenous investigator or civilian monitor, despite public calls set out by his family. This investigation marks the fourth civilian investigation into the police shooting of an Indigenous resident of Vancouver Island in over a year,” states the letter.
IIO Chief Civilian Director Ronald MacDonald said that while some of the recommendations are out of the IIO’s scope, “there are still lessons to be learned and things to be changed. Of course as society changes, all institutions need to change.”
A Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson, who did not want to be named, said that there is work being done by the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act to look at the act in its entirety, including the sections on the IIO.
“Everyone deserves to be treated fairly by the police, and our government acknowledges that for many Black, Indigenous and other people of colour, that hasn’t always been the case,” said the spokesperson.
MacDonald has also made recommendations to that committee. One is to develop a process to involve communities, and another to break down systemic barriers for people who want to be investigators in the IIO.
According to the ministry, the government has provided funding for counsel to allow families to participate in inquiries in the past. Funding is available on a case-by-case basis, and the province also funds Legal Aid B.C., which helps with representation and legal advice for British Columbians.
MacDonald said that the IIO is waiting for some more expert testimony in the Lowndes case, and despite a backlog of cases, will be ensuring that their investigation is thorough before publishing his report and recommendations.