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Families call for public inquiry on 3rd anniversary of Jared Lowndes’ death

Letter writing campaign demands inquiry into police killings of Indigenous people
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Laura Holland, the mother of Jared Lowndes, speaks at a press conference in Vancouver on July 8, 2024, the third anniversary of her son's death, to call for a public inquiry into police killings of Indigenous people.

The families of numerous Indigenous people who have been killed in interactions with police in B.C. launched a letter writing campaign on Monday (July 8), calling for a public inquiry into the systemic issue. 

Monday marks the third anniversary of the death of Jared "Jay" Lowndes, a 38-year-old Wet’suwet’en man who was shot to death by RCMP officers in a Campbell River parking lot in 2021. Last April, the B.C. Prosecution Service decided against recommendations from a police watchdog to charge three of the involved Mounties, saying there wasn't enough evidence to support convictions. 

That same month, Crown also announced it was staying manslaughter charges against multiple officers accused in the death of Dale Culver, a 35-year-old from the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations. 

The decisions sparked outrage from First Nations groups, who said they amounted to sanctioning violence against Indigenous people. 

Indigenous people shot by police as disproportionate rate 

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Martha Martin, the mother of Chantel Moore, speaks at a press conference in Vancouver on July 8, 2024, calling for a public inquiry into police killings of Indigenous people. The sister of Julian Jones, Laura Manson, stands to her right and the mother of Jared Lowndes, Laura Holland, stands to her left. (Jane Skrypnek/Black Press Media)

Lowndes and Culver are far from the only Indigenous people to die in interactions with police in B.C. or Canada. Some others include Christopher Amyotte, who died in Vancouver in August 2022 after police shot him with a bean bag gun, Julian Jones who was shot and killed by an officer in Tofino in February 2021 and B.C. woman Chantel Moore who was killed during a police wellness check in New Brunswick in June 2020. 

An investigation by The Canadian Press found that during an 11-month period in 2022, police shot 87 people in Canada. About 40 per cent of them were Indigenous. 

“For too long, the police have been allowed to kill with impunity, particularly ravaging and harming Indigenous communities and other communities of colour," said B.C. Civil Liberties Association lawyer Latoya Farrell, speaking alongside family members at a press conference on Monday. 

She said the problem isn't just that police are disproportionately using violence against Indigenous people, but that they then aren't being held accountable for their actions.

It's an issue the recently-retired civilian director of B.C.'s Independent Investigations Office has also raised. Speaking in May, Ron MacDonald said he had recommended criminal charges against officers in 39 cases over the previous five years – involving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous victims – and that Crown only pressed charges in 18 of them. 

“Those numbers raise questions that need to be addressed. I think there are definitely challenges to the accountability of police in British Columbia," MacDonald told Black Press Media in an interview at the time. 

In B.C., the IIO investigates any time a police incident results in serious harm or death. Other complaints are either processed through the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (if they involve municipal police members), or the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (if they involve RCMP). 

It's up to the B.C. Prosecution Service, however, to actually lay any criminal charges.  

Farrell said they want a public inquiry to determine what exact changes need to be made, but that one thing they would like to see is the creation of a fully independent prosecutor, who would be devoted solely to deciding on police-involved cases. Crown is intended to be impartial and independent, but Farrell said that isn't always what family members of Indigenous people experience.  

Farrell said they also want to end the practice of police investigating police, which is how it works under the OPCC, and bring in more Indigenous involvement and oversight. 

A mother's call for justice

Reflecting on the last three years on Monday, Lowndes' mother Laura Holland said there have been days when it's felt like she is moving mountains with her advocacy work and others when she falls into valleys of despair. On those days, when Holland said she doesn't want to live anymore, she reminds herself that her son would want her to keep fighting for change and that giving up would only mean letting colonialism win. 

“As much racism as we face on a daily basis, as much hatred as we face on a daily basis, I'm going to keep going.”

Holland is in the midst of pursuing a civil lawsuit against the B.C. government and the four unnamed officers involved in her son's death. In both that and the families' call for an inquiry, Holland said her hope is to make police officers and government officials stand up in public and answer for their actions. 

“No more lies. No more crap. Tell us why you want to kill us."

Black Press Media reached out to the B.C. government for comment but did not hear back by publication deadline.