‘This is just wrong’ - Macleans.ca

‘This is just wrong’

Four Aboriginal men have died in Yukon RCMP custody in 10 years. A recent inquest just raised more questions.



On Dec. 2, 2008, Raymond Silverfox lay dying in the RCMP’s Whitehorse drunk tank. Despite his vomiting more than 23 times, medical attention was not deemed a priority for the 43-year-old, who was kept in custody rather than moved to a hospital. Instead, as closed-circuit camera footage shown at a coroner’s inquest held in April revealed, he was, in the final 13 hours of his life, ridiculed by officers and guards and told to lie in his own filth. Paramedics were eventually called, but by then, he’d succumbed to acute pneumonia.

Silverfox is the fourth Aboriginal person to die in Yukon RCMP custody in 10 years. Robert Stone died in May at a Whitehorse detox centre after a night of being bounced between paramedics, hospital and police. And the equipment that recorded Silverfox’s last hours was installed after December 1999, when John Tibbet Jr. hanged himself in a Whitehorse RCMP cell. Still, by mid-2000, two more Aboriginal men had perished in Yukon police custody.

Days after Silverfox’s death, calls for a public inquiry were crushed at the legislature. When an MLA called the man’s fate an example of “systematic prejudice” within police ranks, Premier Dennis Fentie called the remarks an outrage. But evidence heard at the inquest has renewed calls for a full public inquiry.

“My dad did not deserve the treatment he received,” Silverfox’s daughter, Deanna Charlie, said via phone from her home in Carmacks, a small community on the Yukon River. “I still can’t believe what he had to endure.” Neither can former federal NDP leader Audrey McLaughlin, who in a letter to the local paper called Silverfox’s death “the shame of a whole territory.” Canadian human-rights lawyer Clayton Ruby has weighed in, as has the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. Last week it filed grievances with the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP with respect to Silverfox and Stone.

Neither a public apology to the Silverfox family by Yukon RCMP Superintendent Peter Clark, who is on record supporting civilian oversight, nor a joint government-RCMP policing review announced last month, has mollified critics. Silverfox’s family filed for a judicial review of the inquest, which determined Silverfox died of natural causes, and is suing the attorney general of Canada, eight RCMP officers and three guards for damages. Meanwhile, the Crown is examining possible criminal charges against those involved, and a disciplinary probe by police drags on.

But skepticism surrounds the upcoming police review. A 2006 report in the Yukon noted the challenges facing Yukon RCMP, including the role of alcohol abuse. It also made some recommendations. But not much has changed, save for a new Yukon RCMP policy— immediately employed after Silverfox’s death—requiring an ambulance to be called if a person in custody vomits twice. Police transferred detainees to the hospital 174 times in 2008; in 2009 those visits skyrocketed to 417. “Sometimes these individuals are coming in not once, but two and three times a day,” said Yukon Medical Association president Dr. Rao Tadepalli, of detainees and other addicts.

In a cruel irony, paramedics attending to Silverfox at the Salvation Army shelter in Whitehorse the day he died asked the drunk but coherent man if he wished to go to the hospital or the drunk tank.

Silverfox, visiting from Carmacks and picked up for public intoxication, chose to go with the police.


‘This is just wrong’

  1. The last thing an emergency room needs is a whole bunch of belligerent drunks; they're bursting at the seams as it is. And yet, people have an amazing ability to achieve deadly levels of alcohol intoxication where they need the hospital to survive until their next binge.

    It would be easy (and probably correct) that years of frustrating experience led to a biased reaction to "yet another drunk Indian" on the part of the police, including to minimize the distress this guy was in. But the cops' exasperation was the final contributor to this gentleman's demise, which fed off of so many contributors from well before that unfortunate day. The "shame of a whole territory" is by no means borne solely by the RCMP here.

    • The "shame of a whole territory" is by no means borne solely by the RCMP here.

      Well put. In addition to institutional failures (RCMP, Federal Government, social programs, etc.), a fair amount of blame also needs to be placed squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Silverfox.

  2. 4 DEATHS in ten years and this is an outrage?
    What about the kids that die at the hands of drunk parents/guardians in this region?
    How many of them has there been in ten years?
    Or it's the whole 'while in police custody' that's the problem – I see a national crisis, yep – meanwhile the rest of us can't even get a primary physician or months to on end to see a specialists or a needed procedure.
    But then still in Canada patients dont' have rights nor the deep pockets to sue when something goes terribly wrong and a loved one dies. Guess the RCMP aren't as well protected as the physicians are in this country.

  3. At least when this drunken fella died he didn't take his two young kids with him.

  4. Was he capable of making a decision as to what best served his needs? Alcoholism has an extremely strong genetic component. Very painfully sad to read this on a Canadian site,

  5. It is very sad anytime anyone dies of a disease especilly when someone could have done something about it but more importantly those who should have done something about it, namely the RCMP officers in charge of the victim. When a person is intoxicated they cannot make reasonable decisions for themselves therefore someone who is sober must take on the responsibility to make decisions for them … in this case the RCMP officers. The lack of concern by these officers is only exceeded by their lack of common sense. Not making light this tragedy but this is yet another prime example as to why the rest of the "real peace officers of the world" look at the RCMP as a joke. This is a very sad day for the Silverfox family, the people of the Yukon, all Canadians and the RCMP on several levels. Canadians in general think Canada is a great country but when the RCMP constantly and consistanly make such blatant
    "rookie" errors in judgement to the extent where yet another person has died under the watch of the RCMP perhaps Canadians should think again. Sad, very sad.

  6. Anyone ever consider the problem here is alcoholism…not the police. Where's the self respect? How can you allow yourself to get that drunk? What about under-lying medical conditions the man may have/had been suffering from. Yes it could have been handled better by the RCMP but finger pointing at the police is the easy way out of this situation and it's not fair.

  7. I think the hospital should have done more, you ASK an intoxicated person where he would like to go? And how can someone say the LAST thing an emergency room needs is a belligerent drunk? Alcohol poisoning, drug overdose OR life threatening injury, no matter what it is the FIRST thing an emergency room should be dealing with is saving a life.