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Rallies planned for B.C. Indigenous man Jared Lowndes who was shot, killed by RCMP

A memorial for Jared Lowndes that was set up after he died on July 8 has been torn down numerous times. Photo submitted to NEWS 1130.
Summary

The Independent Investigations Office of BC has been called to probe the death of Jared Lowndes

Family, First Nartions leaders are calling for an inquest into the shooting of an Indigenous man in Campbell River

CAMPBELL RIVER (NEWS 1130) — People will gather on Vancouver Island and in North Vancouver Tuesday to support the family of an Indigenous man who was killed by police in Campbell River.

Jared Lowndes, a 38-year-old father of two from the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s Laksilyu (Small Frog) House, was shot and killed by the RCMP on July 8. The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of BC has been called in to investigate.

Lowndes’ family and the First Nations Leadership Council are calling for an Indigenous investigator and civilian monitor to be appointed by the IIO, as well as a public inquest into Lowndes’ death.

Lowndes’ aunt, Fay Blaney, says family, friends, elders, and community members will gather at the RCMP detachment in Campbell River Tuesday morning.

“We are planning an action in front of the police station. We’re going to have a ceremony first when we do pick up Jared’s ashes, and we’ll drive up in a caravan, up to the police station, and we’ll have some speakers and some statements,” she says.

She affectionately describes Lowndes — who was 6’6″ tall — as a gentle giant.

“He just had such a big heart for everybody, and especially for children and animals,” she says.

Lowndes leaves behind two daughters, ages six and 13.

“The older one, she’s really angry. And the younger one, she’s just really hurt by the whole thing. She cries for him a lot,” Blaney says.

The IIO’s statement on Lowndes’ death says the Campbell River RCMP “unsuccessfully attempted to conduct a traffic stop,” but ultimately officers located Lowndes.

“An interaction occurred between the man and an officer who was assisted by a police service dog. Shots were fired by police, and the man was pronounced dead at the scene,” the statement continues. “An officer also sustained injuries during the incident, and a police service dog was killed.”

‘They were focused on the dog’

Statements from the Campbell River RCMP included additional details, with police saying they were attempting to stop Lowndes due to an outstanding warrant. Police say Lowndes “stabbed and killed” the police service dog.

Following the initial statement, the commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP issued a separate statement, mourning the loss of the police service dog.

RELATED: Man shot and killed by RCMP, police dog stabbed to death in Campbell River

A subsequent statement from the Campbell River RCMP thanked the community for the “outpouring support and well-wishes” following the dog’s death, and included a photo of a makeshift memorial outside of the detachment. A parade of emergency vehicles was also held.

Blaney says residents of Campbell River lined the streets to show support for the service animal.

“They were focused on the dog, and the fact that we are speaking out — even as difficult as that is for us — they’re trying to silence us,” Blaney says.

A memorial set up in front of a Tim Horton’s, where Lowndes died, has been dismantled almost every night since it was put up. Signs made by Lowndes’ daughters have been torn up and trampled. Their grandmother has repeatedly taped them back together, and stood them back up.

“We went down there yesterday and the shrine had been destroyed yet again,” Blaney says.

Before speaking on Tuesday, Lowndes’ mother, Laura Holland, plans to lay flowers at the memorial that has been set up for the police service dog, Gator.

“Her primary message will be, ‘We are not like you,'” Blaney says, adding she thinks the statements from the RCMP — with the focus on the death of the police dog, and description of Lowndes as a “suspect” with an outstanding warrant — incited anger, enflamed racism, and vilified Lowndes.

Publicly available, online court records do not indicate Lowndes was facing any criminal charges at the time of his death. Family has said the warrant was related to a years-old order for Lowndes’ DNA, and the Times Colonist has reported it was due to a breach of a conditional sentence for offences that occurred in 2013.

‘Canada is not even supposed to have a death penalty’

Lowndes’ mother says regardless of what the warrant was for, and despite how her son reacted when pursued by police, he should not have been shot and killed.

“We’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Jared didn’t have the opportunity to be tried. He was killed in the street, and Canada is not even supposed to have a death penalty,”  Holland tells NEWS 1130.

“An arrest warrant should not have become a death sentence for Jared,” she writes in a statement. “Every day we are living with the pain of losing Jared, and the pain and anger of this racist, colonial country that took my son and dishonours him even in death.”

IIO investigation ongoing, will leave ‘no stone unturned’

IIO Chief Civilian Director Ronald MacDonald says although he cannot comment on the specifics of this case, the nature and age of a warrant would be considered when assessing whether or not police action was justified.

“Certainly in a case where a person is being arrested on a warrant, the nature of the warrant, what it covers, is relevant, and can be relevant to a consideration of the actions of the officers involved,” he explains.

“So, for example, if it was a warrant for someone failing to pay a fine on a speeding ticket, that’s one type of case. If it was a case where a person was wanted for several murders in another part of the country, that has a different impact on the case.”

A civilian monitor has not been appointed in this case yet. MacDonald says one still could be, and that the office is also thinking more broadly about how to handle cases like Lowndes’.

“We are attempting to develop a process that will allow us to appropriately liaise with Indigenous families and communities in cases such as this,” he says.

“Specifically in this case we are in discussions with the family, about how we can liaise between our office, them and their community, and that’s ongoing.”

MacDonald says there is a lot of evidence to collect in this case, with forensics, surveillance videos, and witness statements all being gathered.

“We will consider everything that’s relevant to the actions of police in this matter. Obviously in a case where someone’s life has been taken, we don’t leave any stone unturned,” he says.

“At the end of the day what we have to do is take all of that information and determine whether or not the actions of the police officers were justified in the circumstances. And if they weren’t justified, then we will refer the matter to the Crown for consideration of charges. If they were justified then we’ll issue a public report and we’ll explain why I have reached that decision.”

Generally, MacDonald says the IIO releases very few details of ongoing investigations. He says it is taking the same approach in this case.

“We’re always cautious ourselves to limit the amount of facts that we put out because facts can impact witnesses, even if it may impact them unknowingly,” he says, adding information shared by others on social media or in press releases can also influence witnesses.

National Police Federation statement defends RCMP actions 

Blaney and Holland say a recent statement from the National Police Federation, titled Campbell River RCMP Response Protected Residents, Community and Officers is another thing that has made things worse for Lowndes’ family and community.

“They’re speaking out of turn, because the Independent Investigations Office has not yet concluded their work, and here they are making their own pronouncements,” Blaney says.

That statement was issued July 12 by Brian Suave, president of the union that represents around 20,000 RCMP officers.

“We send our sympathies to the Lowndes family and friends following the death of Jared Lowndes last week,” it reads.

“If Mr. Lowndes had not, however, evaded police, stabbed PSD Gator and injured an RCMP officer, and instead turned himself in to the courts to comply with a Warrant for weapons offenses, he could be alive today. ”

It concludes by saying, “it is critically important their review is conducted without speculation and supposition regarding the outcome, and free from undue or inappropriate external influence.”

RELATED: B.C. First Nations leaders demand inquest into RCMP killing of Indigenous man 

Dr. Robert Gordon, a professor of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, says he found the statement “a little disconcerting,” noting the federation is a relatively new organization which he describes as having a mandate to speak on behalf of members.

“They’re exerting external influence. There’s a contradiction in their position whether they can see it or not. This would be prejudging on the basis of information provided by the RCMP so far,” he says.

While Gordon does not begrudge the union’s right to advocate for the interests of its members, he can understand why the statement may be inflammatory at a time when police use of force against Indigenous people, Black people, and other marginalized groups has come under focus.

“They’re defending their membership in an aggressive way, and that’s going to result in increased heat in the conversations around key issues to do with police, police reform, and police practice,” he says.

“I think at this point they’re pushing to see how far they can go with these issues.”

NEWS 1130 has reached out to the National Police Federation for comment.

North Vancouver ‘Justice for Jared’ rally, march planned

Lorelei Williams is helping to organize an action on the North Shore Tuesday.

“The family, they want Justice for Jared, what happened to him. It’s a horrible thing that happens to our people too much,” she says.

“I’m definitely aware of all the racism by the police towards Indigenous people, and that’s why I am going to this event to support the family, but also to raise awareness of this issue. The police do this, they use so much force when they don’t need to. It’s so much force that it’s fatal. This is why we don’t like to deal with the police, because we can end up dying.”

Williams notes Indigenous people are disproportionately likely to be shot and killed by police in Canada. She references the case of Chantel Moore, a Tla-o-qui-aht woman who was killed during a “wellness check” in New Brunswick as one recent example.

RELATED: ‘We are not experiencing isolated incidents’: Calls for justice for Chantel Moore, Rodney Levi

The BC Civil Liberties Association, in its recent submission to the province’s Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act, outlines some of the statistics.

“BC has the shameful distinction of the country’s highest rate of police-involved deaths.10 According to the BC Coroner’s Office, 20 percent of those who died in encounters with police between 2013 and 2017 were Indigenous,” the submission reads.

Summarizing an investigation done by the CBC, the BCCLA says Indigenous people are 16 per cent of those killed by police, but only 4.2 per cent of the population, and that an Indigenous person in Canada is 10 times more likely to have been shot and killed by a police officer than a white person.

Williams says these grim statistics need to be understood in their broader context.

“There’s so much systemic racism against us. People are starting to see it a little bit,” she says.

The recent confirmation of unmarked graves at residential school sites, the arrest of an Indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter at a Vancouver bank, the arrests of protesters against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls can’t be seen as separate issues, according to Williams.

“The genocide against our people happened and is still happening, and this is one of the many, many things that are happening towards our people.”