RCMP may face charges in death of Wet’suwet’en man, advocates say reform is urgent
Content warning: This story contains details of police violence against Indigenous people. Please read with care.
Three Mounties involved in the death of Jared Lowndes could now face charges nearly a year and a half after the Wet’suwet’en man was shot in a parking lot in “Campbell River.”
However for Jared’s family and advocates, justice can’t truly be served until the deep-rooted systemic racism in Canada’s police forces is addressed — and until Indigenous people no longer have to fear being killed at the hands of the state.
The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) announced Thursday it has determined “reasonable grounds” that the officers may have committed offences related to their use of force, and it will file a report to prosecutors recommending charges.
After the police watchdog agency’s update, Jared’s mother Laura Holland spoke to media and supporters in “Vancouver,” where she said the IIO’s decision confirms what her family has always known about the RCMP’s actions that day.
“We knew that they had done wrong, we knew that everything that they did that day was wrong,” she said. “Now we have to wait for the Crown to make their decision.”
‘The RCMP is going to kill me’
Jared, of the Laksilyu Clan, was killed on the morning of July 8, 2021, during an interaction with RCMP who Laura said had been “hunting” him.
Investigators confirmed that police had attempted to check Jared’s car just before 5:30 a.m. that day, and then tracked him down again in a Tim Hortons drive-through at about 9 a.m. During the confrontation, a police dog was deployed and Jared was shot, RCMP said. Afterwards, Laura said, the trauma was compounded when her son’s body was left in the sun for 12 hours before the IIO could make it there.
Six months before his death, Jared had written a chilling letter to a lawyer where he detailed alleged harassment by police, including being deprived of food and blankets while in custody.
“My name is Jared Lowndes, I’m First Nations and the RCMP is going to kill me,” Jared wrote in January 2021, according to the letter shared by his family.
“I was recently in the Supreme Court of Vancouver. I was falsely charged with various offences, which I vehemently deny. During the process, I was assaulted by several VPD officers, I was forced to be naked outside. They threatened myself and my family.”
There was an outstanding warrant, RCMP have said, the day he was stopped and shot. This past July, on the one-year anniversary of Jared’s death, Laura ceremonially opened evidence bags of the clothing her son had been wearing that day and witnesses counted what appeared to be multiple bullet holes.
Jared, who was 38 when he died, was a father of two children and also had ties to the Xwemalhkwu First Nation through his family. His family and friends continue to remember him for his loving spirit and the way he protected the people he cared for.
“My son was a loving man. He did not deserve to die the way he did,” Laura said. “There was so much indignity in his death and what came afterwards … This should have never happened. This is a call for justice.”
A woman takes a photo of protest signs that were later held up during a media conference in ‘Vancouver’ on Thursday. Photo by Cara McKenna
‘People shouldn’t have to wait so long’
During the gathering on Thursday, people held signs with messages including “police everywhere, justice nowhere” and “no more RCMP murders.”
Laura opened the event by acknowledging all of the families whose relatives have been killed by police — specifically Julian Jones, a Tla-o-qui-aht man who was shot by RCMP in February 2021. Though Julian was killed by police, the IIO announced Nov. 16 it would not be recommending charges.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said the IIO has generally failed to live up to their mandate to hold police agencies accountable. He said on Thursday that UBCIC had just “served notice” to the IIO, telling them that there needs to be serious reform.
“In today’s world too many Indigenous Peoples are shot and killed by the RCMP and other police forces across this country. We have a list and there are about 100 names on that list just in regards to police shootings and deaths of Indigenous people,” he said.
“There are a lot of families that have been traumatized for years now who haven’t received the full measure of justice.”
Meghan McDermott, a policy director for the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), agreed that finding even a small measure of justice is “rare” for Indigenous families who have been impacted by police violence.
“Even now, Jared’s family is going to have to wait for months if not years for the Crown to make a decision,” she said.
“We’re going to be there putting pressure on the Crown to make a decision. All they have to do is review a file. That’s all they have to do. People shouldn’t have to wait so long.”
Tonye Aganaba, who is a criminalization and policing campaigner with Pivot Legal Society, said the IIO’s decision is the result of the effectiveness of community voices and campaigns such as Justice for Jared.
“Really I think it comes down to what we’ve always known to be true and what’s really at the root of all of this organizing which is community power,” they said. “We did this together.”
Laura said the announcement from the IIO doesn’t represent the end of their advocacy, but a new beginning. There have already been many specific recommendations given by advocates to police agencies including the IIO.
“This is the beginning of a fight where we are going to ask for changes to policies, we’re going to ask for changes to laws, because there have been far too many Indigenous people being shot and killed, maimed, murdered by the RCMP and different police forces across Canada,” she said.
“Every single time we learn about an Indigenous murder by the police we will be saying something, we will make noise. … We’re going to make sure that no more Indigenous people are shot, killed and hunted down. We’ve had enough.”
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