SMALL TOWN JUSTICE – A Report on the RCMP in Northern and Rural British Columbia
In an opening statement in a report released today by the BC Civil Liberties Association, Terrace is singled out for special attention. Under the heading ‘Executive Summary’ and the sub heading ‘Exceptional Results’ the following statement is written;Read the full report attached below.“The allegations made by participants in Terrace were singular in our experience of northern communities; there were no communities in which the allegations made were as troubling, as widespread, as profound, or as unsettling as the allegations made by the members of the public who we met with in Terrace. Allegations of racism, excessive force, abuse of authority, reckless and negligent conduct and illegal searches were repeated many times.
For a process that was identical in 14 northern centres to turn out such radically different and troubling results in one city suggests to us that the RCMP, the Police Services Division of the Province of B.C., the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, and other regulatory oversight bodies would do well to pay attention to Terrace, and to investigate conduct in this city more carefully than might otherwise be the case had the BCCLA not conducted this study.
In addition, given the widespread concern about retaliation by the local RCMP force contained in a number of the narratives provided to the Association, and despite our best efforts to anonymize complaints as much as is practical and possible, we urge the RCMP to monitor street-level officers closely and remind them of their statutory obligation not to retaliate against complainants.”
Only one other community, Williams Lake, received the unique designation of “Exceptional results” and this seems to do with a few particular instances of the RCMP abusing their position. One in the case of targeting an exotic entertainment establishment and another case where a homeless resident was issued orders he was not able to meet. The condition was that he was not to be outside between the hours of 6 pm and 9 am even though he was homeless and had no place to go. He was immediately re arrested.
Terrace however takes up a full 14 pages of the 100 page report where most other communities the BCCLA visited in the North warranted on average only 4 pages or less.
The Terrace section of the report opens with a side bar describing the Mayor of Terrace, David Pernarowski complaining to the BCCLA after the local Terrace media reported on David Eby’s visit to Terrace last August. ”You’re suggesting that we are in some way, or rather the RCMP are, acting inappropriately in the community with people that are homeless. I’m quite concerned. I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend the actual date that you had set up for this public input, but I’m just concerned that there would be comments made particularly by yourself right after the Terrace event if you don’t have any corroborating evidence.” stated Pernarowski wrote Eby,
“You need to be talking to people in the business community. Certainly those prolific offenders, completely intoxicated, vandalizing windows, public fornication, all those things that nobody in the community wants to see, those [business owners] are the people you’d want to speak to. See if there has been an improvement in those types of offenses.
“ I don’t know if you had too many business owners show up to your inquiry or whatever, but the business owners are pleased with how it looks. It’s safer for people. I don’t have anyone coming to me to say they’ve been abused, or treated more forcefully. What they like is the downtown is a safer place for people to come out and shop.
“There may be a person who is in fact an alcoholic but is very cooperative with police and happy to move along, and understand that they can’t be drunk in public. Or sleeping on a public piece of property. And there are some when the RCMP approach, immediately be aggressive, be resisting arrest and would need to be treated differently, like handcuffed and taken to the jail”.
There were numerous positive comments made regarding the Terrace RCMP such as the one on one interaction with the bike patrols. A notable positive comment was with one participant in the forum describing how the RCMP returned with a trunk load of firewood for a group at an outdoors campsite.
This was the exception however and as the report begins to address the negative comments Eby takes note to point out they did not have the resources available to verify the claims made. The report and tour of the Northern communities of BC was meant to “Take the Temperature” of the public in regards to the RCMP.
“With that said,” Eby writes, “we note that the allegations made in Terrace were singular in our experience of northern communities, which is to say that there were no communities in which the allegations made were as troubling, as widespread, as profound, or as unsettling as the allegations made by the members of the public who we met with in Terrace.”
So numerous were the complaints brought forward to the BCCLA during their visit to Terrace they made a special return trip to continue to offer the residents an opportunity to speak out.
Residents claimed they feared retaliation by the RCMP. Eby opened a section on this in his report by referring to the Williams Lake RCMP retaliating against a local website, welcometowilliamslake.ca for unfavourable coverage. In a similar vein he described the stories delivered to him in Terrace.
"…participants expressed concern that when they approached local media with negative stories about the RCMP, the media declined to report them and that there are retaliatory actions by local RCMP against the complainant: If you have a story, they won’t put it in, because RCMP have a say if it’s allowed or not. If you do speak out against RCMP, you see repercussions against speaking out. They’ll harass you or target you as a person who isn’t RCMP friendly.
Another participant expressed concern that there were people who were not comfortable coming to the meeting for fear of retaliation: There’s a whole list of people who have complaints but won’t show up because they’re afraid of the cameras, and afraid of the cops.
Another participant said that retaliation was so common for him, he had a strategy he said he used to prevent retaliation by RCMP: I found that when I file complaints against RCMP, when they start doing that stuff with me, I start asking for names and badges and tell them, flat out, I’m going to file harassment suits against them if they do it. Eventually it stops, you have to stand up for yourself and not a lot of people will do that.
A special section is set aside in the report for “differential policing.” This is a nice way of describing targeting one identifiable group over another; in this case, First Nations individuals.All this vandalism, cops blame it on native people, the homeless people, it’s not them, it’s the bored high school kids, the cops go after the First Nations people. The cops were recently bragging about cleaning up the streets and getting “riff raff ” out of the park, that’s the exact term they used, native people, homeless people.
We’ve got as much right to be there as anyone, they chased us out of there. There’s drinking going on there, but so are rotten teenagers, they don’t get harassed or get fines. The only people getting fined for it are First Nations. I was in the park with a cooler, cops were a block and a half away, they came straight to me, made me dump it out, kicked me out of the park, bunch of white kids and they don’t go anywhere near them.
"That same participant alleged that for the overwhelmingly aboriginal homeless population in Terrace, the RCMP fail to respond to protect them from assaults:"There are people getting beaten up, cops do nothing about it. A few years ago, all of the street people around here, over 40, 50’s, 60’s, every last one of them was in the paper, they had a group picture taken and were being commended for cleaning up the streets, getting recyclables. Within a month every last one of them got attacked and beaten up and cops did nothing about it. Kids on the street, the skateboarders, some of them [the homeless] say they’re hit in back, head, face, legs, [the kids] take BMX bikes and use that and hit the homeless, not just the guys and girls, there’s never anything in paper about it, cops have never done anything about it. [. . .]
One guy is getting attacked so many times, three times in one week, starts bawling his eyes out, all these good little kids, and those parents don’t think it’s their kids. [. . .] I just recently found out the guy who got attacked tried to commit suicide in Prince Rupert.
"A disabled aboriginal participant who uses a cane and has mobility and fine muscle control challenges, told a concerning story about repeated arrests by RCMP for false allegations he was drunk in public:"Reason I came now, is the way I walk. Cop walks up to me, said “What are you doing here?” I said “Waiting for supper, nice hot day like this.” Cops tried to send me home, I said “I’m not drinking, I’m just enjoying the sun,” and I said “If you can smell alcohol, and there’s nothing,” but the way I walk they always try to pull me in. They pulled me in I was sober, stayed awake for eight hours until they let me out. [. . .] I can’t even sit in the park, they walk in on their bikes and they come up to me, “Have you been drinking?” “Nope, I’m sober, just enjoying the sun.”
Even like my workers they’ve been trying to talk to the cops about the way I am, there’s one cop they talked to, they knew I was sick, but he transferred out of Terrace. He knew, my worker told that cop, “Constable, he walks that way, he’s not drunk, he walks like that all the time.” And when he was in Terrace, I never got harassed by any cops, now he’s transferred and different cops are in town now. They keep on bugging me about it, and they know I’m not drinking. [. . .] My legs are my disability, I had an accident a long time ago. [. . .] Every time I go to the park, walking down the street, the cops slowly drive by, he drives by a little fast, when they see me they drive really slow, check me out as if I’m drunk.
"That participant’s brother said that in an earlier incident, for which he had a photo on his cell phone, the disabled man had been “roughed up” by the RCMP:"When my brother was drinking in the park, they roughed him up. He uses a cane. And I live a few feet away, and I went to take him home to my place, and they pulled one of those spray cans on me, and they took him to jail. He had a seizure in jail, and the cops wouldn’t call an ambulance for him, and security had to call an ambulance for him. I got the picture of that. It was about a month ago.
"A participant shared the following allegation of an incident he witnessed and attempted to intervene in:"[I was sitting across from a homeless woman I knew who had a shopping cart and the] police told her she had no right to use the buggy. They said without even asking her, “You stole what’s in those bags didn’t you?” I said “You have no right to do that to her,” the cop turned around and said “Be quiet.” They had no right to search her, they just took it on themselves to say she stole the clothes in the cart, she stole the Walmart cart. The [newspapers are] giving the impression they’re [RCMP] doing a good job, they’re not.
They do a lot of harassing, that’s not a good job. They don’t even talk to these people here.
"An individual called the BCCLA from Terrace after hearing about our workshop, he was not able to attend, but wanted to report this incident:"I was sitting on bench in summertime, two years ago. Waiting for the bus, bus doesn’t come until 9:00, I was sitting there for an hour. The police came, “You’re not allowed to sit here more than one hour.” I was quite shocked. [An advocate] wrote a letter to [the head of the detachment], [the detachment head] wrote back and said I was drunk. I haven’t had a drink in two years.
One of them was a really nice guy and I was surprised he’d do that. For him to say that I was drunk I was just sitting there waiting for the bus after shopping at Safeway, those kind of instances are quite common. We’ve already been stereotyped.
There were a couple white boys standing across from me at Tim Hortons, the cops never went to them, came right over to me. [. . .] Didn’t think that happened anymore, because I grew up in the 70’s here, I thought it was gone until it happened to myself, and I was like, wow, it never did go away, it’s just well hidden.
Some of the allegations made in this report are even more disturbing. Officers driving aboriginal males and females out of town, male officers stripping females bare, leaving aboriginals on deserted logging roads in freezing weather, the list is long and the descriptions detailed.
The BCCLA states they refrained from making recommendations in the report leaving it to the Province and the RCMP to determine how best to address the issues. However they did recommend the RCMP and Province not ignore the report and a failure to act on what they call “the systemic and extremely serious issues identified” would reflect a larger failure to restore and ensure public confidence in their police.
Terrace received national attention a number of years ago for its bigoted, intolerant stance, when former Mayor Jack Talstra and his Council of the day refused to recognize the homosexual segment of the community and refusing a request to proclaim ‘Gay Pride day”. The resulting court case, which concluded with Terrace refusing to proclaim anything, a stand they maintain today, is still used as a precedent. Details can be found here
. Terrace now faces another dilemma, how to address these issues to avoid more national attention for dishonourable conduct. The City pays for the RCMP, the cells, the building and the staffing. It is the City that determines the focus of the RCMP along with input from the Chamber of Commerce and other community service organizations. As the Mayor pointed out in his complaint to the BCCLA, he feels the business community is happy. The question, as always is, does the ends justify the means?For further research and background on the measures taken by Terrace in the past four years we offer the following links to previous stories.
RCMP Inspector Fenson was the officer in charge in 2007 when a Terrace City Councillor took it upon herself to find a winter home for the chronic alcoholics and homeless. The Inspector had suspended the ongoing program of consultation already in place while the Councillor did this. She inadvertently suggested “They” referring to local aboriginals, “should go back to their home communities” offending many. At this time Inspector Fenson suggested there were only 20 chronic alcoholics and the RCMP kept their eyes open for them so they would do no harm to themselves. Read the article here
Coining the term DIPPS (Drunks In Public Places), which the Terrace RCMP continue to use today when using their radios to communicate finding an intoxicated person, Councillor Davies seemed to have alienated the task force set up with the RCMP.
“Over the past year we met and made progress in areas of interagency cooperation and identifying greater issues and global solutions. It now appears the City of Terrace will be looking at these issues with the formation of a committee headed by Councillor Marylin Davies.” stated an email circulated on behalf of Inspector Fenson.Read an article describing this affair written in October 2007 here.
Also in October of 2007 the Terrace Daily received a detailed account of perceived abuse from a First Nations woman at the hands of Terrace RCMP officers. Read the account here
During the lead up to the 2008 Municipal elections the future Mayor, David Pernarowski, publically supported by the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce, had as one of his planks a desire to free the City of panhandlers and public intoxication.Read his contribution to the site here.
In late December 2008, a new volunteer program was quietly started to address the needs of the chronic alcoholics and homeless. Called HOPs for Homeless Outreach Program, this day center provided a location for the homeless to use the washroom facilities and get food and shelter. Social workers volunteered their time to address the needs when they became apparent.
After the election of David Pernarowski as Mayor with his new Council a downtown crime reduction unit was designed and funded with $170,000. The City presented their full City plan in March 2009.This entire plan can be read here
. The Downtown Crime Reduction Unit is detailed as an acronym DT under the heading Downtown Revitilization.
In mid April 2009, Terrace City Council passed a controversial bylaw providing the RCMP with a new set of regulations and fines they have since used to restrict access to various parts of the City. Read the report here
In the Summer of 2009 a year after Inspector Fenson left Terrace, Staff Sergeant Stubbs was promoted to Inspector and a new Staff Sergeant was brought into Terrace.Read about the new Staff Sergeant and his new tactics here
The Hops center proved to be an almost fatal success story as the needs were overwhelming the ability to meet them. The following story provides some context with the homeless outreach program. Read the article published on September 18 2009 here
The Crime Reduction Unit was reported as living up to its name in an article published much laterHere.
An overall picture and the success of the Homeless Outreach Program can be read here
. It operates and feeds those in need for an average of one dollar per person per day.
It appears Terrace does have a compassionate side though it may simply need to be nourished.