Racial + gender violence and policing — the problem lives here too

As I drove into Qualicum Beach along Memorial Avenue late last week, I was struck by the unusual sight of a red dress hanging in a tree on the boulevard. Then it registered — this is a symbol of the murdered and missing Indigenous women campaign. It was a jarring image. It seemed out of place, and too close to home. Yet, I was reminded of several local incidents of domestic and racial violence in the past year indicating that the problem lives here too.

Memorial Avenue, Qualicum Beach, BC February 26, 2021

Two days later, on February 27, 2021, the news broke that police had shot and killed an Indigenous man near Tofino. According to CHEK News, the RCMP said that two officers from the Tofino detachment had gone to the Opitsaht reserve on Meares Island “to locate a woman in distress,” reporting that “a call had come in about a woman allegedly being held against her will.”

One of the first things noted by the media across Canada, was that this was the second killing of a member of the Tia-o-qui-aht First Nation by police in less than a year. In June 2020, Chantel Moore, was shot and killed by a police officer in Edmunston, New Brunswick who was conducting a wellness check on the 26-year-old mother who had recently moved to NB to be near family.

The Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia, a police oversight agency, is now investigating the Tofino police-involved shooting, but Indigenous leaders are raising objections. “We’re sick and tired of police investigating police. We just don’t trust [their] investigations,” said Hugh Braker, president of the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of British Columbia, reported CBC News.

Racial and domestic violence closer to home

In the early morning hours of June 2, 2020, a white pickup truck with several occupants was observed terrorizing families in their homes on the Tseshaht First Nation reserve near Port Alberni. The incident was caught on video and widely broadcast on news and social media. An RCMP media release states that the occupants of the pickup were throwing debris out of the vehicle onto the yards of homes, yelling racial slurs, and making derogatory comments. Families reported being “badly shaken” by the incident.

Video captured by residents of Tseshaht First Nation community near Port Alberni, BC. CHEK News

On June 3, 2020, the RCMP reported that a Qualicum Beach man had “turned himself in” and had been arrested in conjunction with the incident. A story in the PQB News stated that “the RCMP have not released his name or any charges, but say he has been released from custody on conditions that will protect the Tseshaht First Nation and its residents and prevent further offences. A court date is still to be determined.”

When Second Opinion QB followed up with the RCMP six weeks later, we were informed that “charges have not yet been approved on this incident,” but that there was a “planned court date” scheduled for September 2020. The RCMP advised us, “I don’t have any more information at this time, but should I hear anything from Port Alberni, I’ll be sure to reach out to you.” We have had no further communication from the RCMP about this matter.

Ken Watts, an elected councillor with the Tseshaht First Nation, says that they were not aware of any such conditions agreed to by the man who had turned himself in to the RCMP. In a September 2020 email to Second Opinion QB, Watts said, “To date, the Tseshaht has not had any further discussions [with the RCMP] on how he is to do that, nor have we met the individual.” Just prior to publication of this story, Watts confirmed that the Tseshaht had still not received any further information.

It appears that one alleged incident of racist and/or gender violence ends with the alleged perpetrator shot dead by police while, in the other incident, the alleged perpetrator is allowed to walk away, apparently without any evident consequences. The first man is Indigenous and the second man is (presumably) white.

Panel on domestic violence confirms victims reluctant to call police

A virtual panel discussion on domestic violence was held on November 29, 2020, sponsored by the local chapter of The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW). A poster advertising the virtual panel featured a Red Dress, signifying solidarity with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign against racial and gender violence. The red dress seen recently on QB’s Memorial Avenue was one of a series placed along main arteries by local residents and CFUW members participating in an Island-wide effort to raise awareness about the issue.

Panel members appearing on Silent No More, a virtual presentation about domestic violence hosted by the local chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women on November 29, 2020.

The virtual panel discussion was entitled Silent No More. Panel members included Bonnie Wallace, a local businesswoman who experienced and escaped horrendous spousal violence; Dave Arnell, a counsellor for the program Men Choose Respect; Dr. Paddy Mark, an addiction specialist; Dawn Clark and Toni Wheeler of the Haven Society shelter; and Constable Tara Guellette of the RCMP’s Oceanside detachment. The panel discussion was thoughtful, respectful and informative — a model of healthy community engagement and leadership.

In a candid admission, Constable Guellette, a 17-year veteran of the RCMP who has been handling the domestic violence and missing persons file for the past year, admitted that victims and others often don’t want to report domestic violence to the police. Frankly, that’s no surprise, given the examples above.

The RCMP are not without other options to help send a message to the public that might help prevent future crimes of racial and gender violence in our area.

In a November 17, 2020 media release, Corporal Jesse Foreman of the RCMP’s Oceanside detachment celebrated Restorative Justice Week across Canada, and lauded the work of the Arrowsmith Community Justice Society for operating a restorative justice and a community dispute program in Oceanside for 21 years, a program that the RCMP can choose to recommend as an alternative to criminal charges. In his media statement, Cpl. Foreman extols the benefits of the program, including that ”The victim is part of the restitution process and has input into what they feel is a fair and reasonable resolution.” Perhaps that only happens in theory, since the Tseshaht First Nation reports having heard nothing from the RCMP since the June 2020 incident in their community.

2020 has been one of the deadliest years for police shootings in Canada. CBC Radio released a two-part series on February 26, 2021 entitled Rethinking the Role of Police about law enforcement in our society.

Domestic and racial violence is a learned behaviour. That was one of the primary messages from the experts on the virtual panel discussion sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women.

This message was echoed and amplified in a comment from one of the attendees. “We have to teach children to respect other children,” said Eva Hilborn, the 94-year-old CFUW member who suggested this topic for the virtual panel.

The full panel discussion, Silent No More, can be viewed on CFUW’s Youtube channel, at the link here.