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Police watchdog to have Indigenous adviser into death in B.C.: First Nations chief

TOFINO, B.C. — An Indigenous person will assist British Columbia's police watchdog in an advisory role for the first time during its investigation of a fatal police shooting on the weekend.

Moses Martin said the decision by the Independent Investigations Office is something the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation had requested.

The RCMP said two officers from its Tofino detachment were called to a home on the Opitsaht reserve on nearby Meares Island to locate a woman in distress on Saturday night.

The Mounties allege an unspecified "interaction" took place in which one man was shot and killed, while another was taken into custody.

The RCMP declined to comment because the shooting is being investigated by the provincial Independent Investigations Office, which investigates all officer-related incidents that result in serious harm or death.

The office said the RCMP responded to a report of a woman being held against her will at a residence on Meares Island at about 9:30 p.m. on Saturday. The woman was taken to hospital for medical assessment, it said.

Ron MacDonald, the chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office, said the advisory role has been filled once before, but never by a member of an Indigenous community.

"I believe it's important for us to ... have available to our investigation someone from this Indigenous community that will, in effect, help us do our jobs well," he said in an interview.

MacDonald said the idea of building trust was a factor in the decision.

"It's very important for us to have that trust in this community," he said. "Given that the history between Indigenous communities and the police world have obviously been fraught to a great extent, depending on who you ask. It's important for us to be aware of that."

The person filling the role is known as a civilian monitor. They will be able to look at any aspect of the investigation, interview investigators and submit a report at the end on its competency and outcome.

MacDonald said he will look at allowing a similar civilian monitor in future investigations, and the monitor for the Meares Island investigation has yet to be chosen.

Martin welcomed the advisory role, adding First Nations had also asked to participate in the investigation into the death of Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, in New Brunswick last year.

"That's a change for us," he said in an interview on Monday. "That's something we also wanted to be a part of in the Chantel Moore case, but we never got a response." 

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation is a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth tribal council and the Opitsaht reserve makes up one of its three major communities.

The Pacheedaht First Nation is part of the Nuu-chah-nulth culture, but does not fall under the council's umbrella.

Martin added that the community will require RCMP officers who enter its territories to do so with an escort by a band member.

"Hopefully something like that would defuse some of the situations," Martin said.

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said the death on the weekend is another shocking incident for the community involving police shootings.

"It just doesn't make sense why there aren't other de-escalation methods being used," said Sayers.

"This has become far too often that Indigenous people are being shot. I just really hope people are taking note of this out in the public."

An Edmundston police officer shot and killed Moore during a wellness check in June. Police allege she lunged at an officer with a knife, and her death was also investigated by the agency in Quebec that investigates police shootings.

Moore, who was from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, had moved to the community in northwestern New Brunswick to be closer to her mother and young daughter.

New Brunswick's public prosecutions service announced on Dec. 23 that it had received the Quebec agency's report into her death and would take time to examine the findings.

— By Nick Wells in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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