Nathan Cullen (file photo)

Former B.C. MP calls for more RCMP oversight

Nathan Cullen says when groups of people lose trust in police, policing becomes impossible

Former Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen is again calling for more oversight of the RCMP in light of the recent spotlight on police-involved deaths.

Cullen first started his quest for police reform in 2009 with a private member’s bill that would have created a civilian watchdog agency to investigate deaths or serious injuries that happen while in RCMP custody.

The bill was inspired by Ian Bush, who died in police custody in 2005 in Houston. The 22-year-old millworker was shot in the back of his head hours after being taken into the detachment for a minor alcohol offence outside a Houston Luckies hockey game by Const. Paul Koester.

Koester was exonerated by a police investigation and two inquiries by the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP. A coroner’s inquest ruled the death “homicide,” but coroner’s inquests do not find fault and homicide carries a different meaning in this context versus a criminal investigation.

“I sat through the hearings and the coroner’s inquiry and realized there was a real fundamental challenge if the police were investigating themselves, especially in an incident where someone is killed in their custody,” said Cullen.

“My belief was that in order for the police to do the job that we require them to do, we needed accountability and we needed that oversight. We need to respect the work they do and expect accountability and those two things are connected.”

The bill did not pass and Cullen said it had consequences for him.

“A lot of blowback at the time…. particularly from my Conservative colleagues and the then-people in the B.C. government. There [were] a lot of attacks against me for even suggesting this would be a good idea for the public.”

In 2012, however, B.C. did create an independent investigations office, which 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 of a police officer.

READ MORE: Smithers woman awarded $55K in RCMP excessive force suit

“There has been some change on the fundamental things, but not enough,” added Cullen. “Civilian oversight has become a reality in most provinces in this country. It isn’t perfect, needs a bunch of work, but that as a principle has been broadly accepted. The need for more improvements is what people are now debating.”

He said depending on who you ask in the Northwest, there is mistrust of the local RCMP, which is a problem.

“Growing up, for me, I knew it was very important that the public trust police, and I mean all the public, from all different sectors and maybe even particularly those that more often come into the contact with the police. And in Canada that is Indigenous, racialized people, low-income people. That confidence is critical for police to keep us all safe. If you lose the trust of certain groups, policing almost becomes impossible.”

He said some of what is being suggested now is a step in the right direction.

“Yesterday in the House of Commons, the NDP were asking for an investigation into the study of police in Canada and how to make some changes.”

He added there needs to be more meaningful, deeper engagement between the police and people in the northwest region including with the Wet’suwet’en. Cullen also suggested there should be better training for the RCMP noting there is support for this among police officers.

“The police I’ve talked to, talk about this, better training, better understanding [of] what [and] where they are policing and returning back to the police being a deeper part of our community instead of this constant moving in and out.

“You’ll have RCMP members come in for a couple of years and then be gone. I’ve always questioned some of that policy. If community policing is a mandate of the force, then being built in a way that officers don’t stay for more than a couple of years runs against that. It takes a while to get to know a place and I don’t know you can police people if you don’t know who they are.”

RELATED: More than 150 people gather for Indigenous and Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Smithers

He thinks his suggestions are realistic and could be put into practice.

“We were told public oversight wasn’t realistic and the police would never go for it and it would never work. We were told body cameras weren’t realistic, we were told there would also be a camera in the interrogation room. All of these things aren’t realistic or possible until they are. The need is real, it is profound.”

Cullen said if the public loses faith in the police force, then the very job of the RCMP becomes impossible.

“If we are all interested in public safety, which I think we are, then figuring these things out should be important to everyone, regardless of their political orientation or how they feel about police.”

“A lot of folks, particularly white people, are realizing what the reality is for non-white people in this country when it comes to policing. They are not the same realities.”



marisca.bakker@interior-news.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Police

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID on Central Coast prompts call for information sharing

At least four cases have been identified on the central coast

NAALS receives funding for new child care centre

This project incorporates a longhouse design and reflects a Nuxalk architectural approach.

Lorena Draney celebrates 100th birthday in Bella Coola

She still knows how to enjoy a good party!

Smoky skies from US wildfires continue to affect Bella Coola

There is a special air quality warning in effect from Environment Canada for our region

Anger growing among B.C. salmon anglers shut out of public fishery

Fisheries minister stands by “very difficult” decisions to limit openings

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C.’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan: Top 5 things you need to know

Jobs training, tax incentives for employers to hire staff and more

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

Most Read