That was a lie.
On December 6, 1998, the body of Frank Joseph Paul, a Mi’kmaq from Big Cove, New Brunswick, was found in an alley in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. He died of hypothermia while "in custody" of the Vancouver Police Department. Officers dragged him out of the police station and into a van, even though he was obviously unconscious, and then dumped him in an alley. The Vancouver Police Department imposed a two day suspension on one of the officers involved for discreditable conduct and a one day suspension on the other for neglect of duty, and decided not to lay criminal charges. Former Police Complaint Commissioner Don Morrison advised the Vancouver Police Department that a Public Hearing would not be appropriate, citing “extended delays” and “other public interest considerations”.
The British Columbia (B.C.) Coroners Office chose not to hold an inquest into Paul’s death — arguing that he was not in custody when he died — even though as the present Police Complaints Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld points out, all Vancouver Police Department’s internal investigations were referred to as “in-custody death.”
Nine years later an inquiry has finally begun.
Yesterday, Commissioner William Davies, a retired judge, heard opening statements from 15 lawyers acting for the Vancouver police, ambulance, coroner's service, the criminal-justice branch and four major aboriginal groups.
He also heard that Paul was "dumped like you put out a bag of garbage for the night," in that alley by those cops.
“It was systemic, institutionalized racism that led to Frank Paul’s Death.” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “This inquiry is about exposing the investigation, or rather, lack of investigation into Frank Paul’s death” he added.
Dana Urban, former legal counsel to the B.C. Police Complaints Commissioner’s Office, in an article last summer in the Vancouver Sun described Paul as a “Mi’kmaq first nations man from New Brunswick who was a long-term resident of the East Hastings area of Vancouver.”
“This man died needlessly on the evening of Dec. 5, 1998, or in the early morning hours of Dec. 6. He was a drunk. He was unemployed. He was homeless. He had crippled hands and crippled feet.
“Though he had little, perhaps, to offer our society, he was, in fact, a human being.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine said yesterday:
"Nearly 9 years after Frank Paul froze to death shortly after being released by Vancouver Police, we are finally seeing a public inquiry begin. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. There have been many cases of First Nations people who have died while in custody or shortly after being released under questionable circumstances. I am hopeful that this inquiry can uncover the truth and deliver some form of justice and closure to the family and friends of Frank Paul.
Events such as the deaths of Dudley George, JJ Harper, Connie and Ty Jacobs, and the "Starlight Tours" in Saskatoon are examples that have spawned past public inquiries. Despite these tragedies, First Nations remain committed to working with the justice system to resolve the difficulties that many First Nations people face when they come into contact with the law."
In British Columbia alone, there have been 267 in-custody deaths since 1992, according to the BC Coroners Service. "In-custody" refers to deaths of civilians whether they are being pursued or are incarcerated by policing authorities.
The Coast Salish, Indigenous Action Movement announced a rally to support the Paul family is to take place at 9:00 am before the next Frank Paul Inquiry session begins, Friday. The solidarity rally will take place outside of the Federal Court building at 701 West Georgia. (across from the TD Bank, kitty corner from London Drugs.)
The following is from the Globe and Mail (Canada).
Allegations of racism loom on first day of inquiry
VANCOUVER -- Before Frank Joseph Paul was dragged out of a city jail like "garbage," and left in a back alley, where he died of hypothermia, he had been picked up by police 230 times for drunkenness, assault and disturbing the peace.
Now, nine years after he was left lying in the rain on a cold December night, instead of being housed in the Vancouver Police Department drunk tank or sent to a detoxification centre, some big and troubling questions are being raised about Mr. Paul's last time in custody.
As an independent commission of inquiry began yesterday into Mr. Paul's death, it became clear the issue is not just the mechanics of how the alcoholic, 47-year-old Mi'kmaq died on Dec. 5, 1998, but whether the police actions and a broader social safety net failed him because of racism.
"Why was Frank Paul left in an alley to die? Was it because he was aboriginal?" asked Kimberley Murray of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, who is attending because the issue is of national interest.
"Why was Frank Paul dragged on his back, soaking wet, into [and out of] a police station and not given medical attention? Was it because he was aboriginal?"
Ms. Murray said Mr. Paul's death is not an isolated event, but is one of many that have occurred across Canada in which native people have died while in police custody.
She said the inquiry will probably not hear any direct evidence of racism, and will have to rely on inference.
"When it comes to finding racism we rarely find a smoking gun," she said.
Commissioner William Davies, a former British Columbia Supreme Court justice, said the inquiry will be wide ranging, exploring not only the events leading up to Mr. Paul's death, but also the provision of health care and social services in Vancouver and the role of several public bodies in his life.
Peggy Clement, the first witness in what is expected to be a six-month inquiry, set the stage by describing her cousin's difficult childhood. His father drank heavily, he spent six years in residential school and he began drinking himself at the age of 15, before wandering away from his home in Elsipogtog (pronounced "ell-zi-book-took"), N.B., to become a migrant farm worker in the United States.
In 1983, he ended up living on the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and was out of touch with the family for more than a decade - before officials called with news of his death.
Initially the family was told he died in a hit-and-run accident, she said, and it wasn't until Dana Urban, then a lawyer with the B.C. Police Complaint Commissioner's office, called some time later that she learned he'd died after being "dumped" in an alley.
Mr. Urban also told her about a police surveillance video that shows a limp Mr. Paul being dragged out of jail, his wet clothes leaving a stain on the floor.
"He said he couldn't forget the image of Frank. ... He kept seeing an image of garbage being put out for the night," she said.
Later the family watched the video.
"For about half an hour we couldn't stop crying. My mother kept saying, 'How come they do that to him?' " she said.
"I just want to know what happened to him. I know he had a hard life but I don't think he deserved to die the way he did," she said.
Mr. Paul was taken into police custody twice on the night he died. The first time police gave him dry clothes, sent him to the drunk tank to sleep it off, then gave him a coffee before releasing him.
But a few hours later he was back, after police found him collapsed from consuming a bottle of cheap rice wine. This time he was unable to walk and a provincial corrections officer was told to drag him to a waiting police wagon, which was going to take him home.
Instead Mr. Paul, too weak to stand, was left in an alley.
George Macintosh, counsel for the VPD, said police had Mr. Paul in custody so much, including 160 times between 1990 and 1998, they knew him by his first name. "They were concerned about him."
But he admitted "the department is regrettably aware of its failure" to safeguard him on the night he died.
"At the jail, at that time, Frank Paul was ill-served," he said, describing as "unusual and unprecedented" the police decision not to admit him to the drunk tank.
"Two police officers did not provide the required care to Mr. Paul," he said.