It has been more than two years since Jared (Jay) Lowndes was shot and killed by RCMP. And Jay’s family and friends are not alone in their wait for justice.
Many Indigenous communities across Canada are watching this case, explains Jay’s mother, Laura Holland. She spent the night before the latest update from B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office (IIO) on the phone with “mothers and sisters of Indigenous sons and daughters slain by law enforcement — from northern B.C. to Alberta to New Brunswick.”
Lowndes was Wet’suwet’en of the Laksilyu House and a 38 year-old father of two children. He was killed by Campbell River RCMP on July 8, 2021.
B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office (IIO), a civilian-led police oversight agency, investigates any incidents where police come in contact with the public and an injury or death occurs. It has been overseeing the case.
After he was killed, witnesses told friends and family that Jay was cornered in a Tim Hortons parking lot when a police service dog was released into his car, where Jay was with his puppy. Neither Jay nor the service dog made it out of the car alive. “The RCMP in Campbell River shot my son, after they started a pursuit that was not necessary,” Holland said at the time.
The RCMP press release stated that “the police service dog was stabbed and killed, and the suspect was shot and was pronounced deceased on scene. The police dog handler was also treated for a knife wound. No other persons were injured.”
The IIO has since reviewed the evidence and determined earlier this year that the actions of three of the four officers involved in the death were “not justified,” and recommended charges. This includes a dog master and two officers who fired shots.
In a 2014 report, Pivot Legal Society, a Vancouver-based human rights organization, called on the province to regulate police service dogs, which were injuring someone every two days at the time, the report found. The same report documented separate incidents of the same police dog attacking civilians in Campbell River.
“Why did the IIO take so long to file the report?” asks Holland.
Neither the IIO’s investigation lead Jaqueline Breton nor director Ronald McDonald responded to Ricochet’s request for an interview.
Media spokesperson Simon Druker did not provide any further details. “While I can’t get into specifics, additional resources were added to the file at points throughout the investigative process, as well as during the period following an investigation when the IIO will complete a disclosure package, which is then delivered to the Crown, which is what took place today.”
For family and friends left in the dark, the long delay is frustrating. Holland explains that waiting without information adds to the pain. “We will never learn the truth behind that, and are left to only speculate as we deal with grief and the fallout of a heinous state murder,” she says.
She’s anticipating another long wait as to whether the Crown will pursue criminal charges against the three unnamed officers, “who are still on duty and living in Campbell River,” says Holland.
She is hoping the Crown prosecutor “will do the right thing and bring criminal charges against these officers.”
“It will be only one small step in proving that Canada is truly invested in ‘reconciliation.’” Holland says. “We have yet to see reconciliation happen anywhere in Canada. There is lots of talk, but we want action.”
Martha Martin is the mother of Chantel Moore, the young Indigenous woman who was woken in the night and killed by an Edmundston police officer in 2020 who was called to perform a wellness check on her. At the time, Moore's death drew widespread national attention and outrage.
Martin says she stands in solidarity with Holland, adding, “we don’t want any more recommendations — we want action.”
Criminologist Dr. Jeff Shantz, who writes and teaches social justice, state, corporate crime, and community advocacy at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, was present when the IIO met with Holland and family to render their decision just before the public announcement last December.
Shantz explains that, “at the time, [the IIO] were going to be recommending the charges against three of the officers, but that there was a fourth officer that they were still doing some investigation around. I think that's the reason for the delay, and it's probably the reason why they're a little bit circumspect in what they're saying now.”
For Shantz, a key issue was whether that officer was going to be a “subject officer” or a “witness officer.” A subject officer is believed to be connected to the death or serious harm of the individual. A witness officer is someone who was involved (but not under investigation), or was at the scene.
The IIO agrees, according to a memorandum of agreement with police agencies. It states that a subject officer is not required to submit to an interview because a subject officer potentially faces criminal charges if their actions were not justified.
“While a subject officer is legally required to produce notes and reports about an incident, they are not required to make those available to the IIO, nor can they be compelled to answer possibly self-incriminating questions from investigators,” Shantz explains. Subject officers have refused to share their notes, and repeatedly declined interviews — amounting to police obstruction to investigations.
The difference is a subject officer can choose to “decline an interview” during an investigation, and a witness officer can be compelled by the IIO. “More means are available [to investigators] to gain, secure, or ensure testimony from witness officers,” Shantz explains.
‘Independent and civilian’ investigators
The IIO is mandated to be “independent and civilian.” However, 41 per cent of the team are from policing backgrounds, confirms IIO media and communications liaison Rebecca Whalen. This includes retired officers, “possibly even drawing a pension from an institution they are investigating,” Shantz says. “That shouldn't happen.” In addition to “potentially having personal and professional relationships that can shape their view, there shouldn't be a training relationship either.”
Since the inception of the IIO in 2012 to early 2023, the organization has investigated 220 deaths. Of the 220 investigated deaths, the IIO has recommended charges be laid in only 14 cases, Shantz explains. “In fiscal year 2021 to 2022, the IIO received a total of 323 notifications, for all incidents, but referred only 12 to the Crown.”
“Even worse, is the record of the Crown in B.C.,” says Shantz. Of the few investigations that go forward to B.C. Prosecution Service, “they have only actually taken one case to trial so far, declining charges in almost every case the IIO has brought to them.”
In the rare instances that a case does make it to court, the delays “give police another layer of protection, built right into the system,” he explains. The expectation that someone accused of a crime has their court appearance within a reasonable amount of time “gives the Crown kind of an out,” says Shantz, “to say ‘so much time that has passed that it would be unfair or unjust to proceed to trial.’”
Shantz has called for a public police offender database to track officers with histories of violence, as recent cases involve officers who are repeat offenders. To talk of police oversight and accountability is a “dangerous myth,” he says, in the sense that police “were created by the state and empowered by the state to kill.”
Police were created as forces of occupation, deeply rooted in colonialism and racism, says Shantz, “imposing and maintaining colonial class structures and systems.” He explains they are accountable to the state for “maintaining systems of property ownership, exploitation, profitability, and accountability. From the state's perspective, if you're doing that well, great,” he says.
A national database, Tracking (In)justice addresses the need for accountability. Alexander McClelland, assistant professor in the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University, who is leading the project, explains the gap. “Historically, there has been no sustained civil society or government body keeping track of police-involved deaths, not even policing organizations do this.”
Tracking (In)Justice aims to fill this void, McClelland says. “Through tracking police-involved deaths across the country, we can begin to see and understand patterns, including the disproportionate deaths of Indigenous people at the hands of the RCMP."
For example, Tracking (In)Justice reports a 66.5 per cent increase in deaths associated with police use of force, comparing 2011 to 2022 to the previous 10-year period — with a striking increase in the past four years. The data base also tracks racial disparities.
“We are determined to have Canadians witness not only the ultra-violent evidence of the killings of our children, but to have our day in court,” says Holland. She wants “everyone to see and know how we are [mis]treated. Law enforcements think that we will just quietly go away. We will not.”
Last year, when the IIO released their decision, they set the announcement for December 6, a day of memorial for the mass shooting of women in Montreal in 1989. Holland says that was strategic. “It seems to me that the announcements from the IIO are usually when there are other events or newsworthy items in the media,” she says. She advised the IIO that she was not available that day, pushing the day forward to December 1.
“We refuse to have our news buried,” she declares.
Jay’s family, friends, and supporters are committed to continuing “to make noise for our family members and the family members across Turtle Island,” says Holland.
A website set up by supporters — justiceforjared.org — demands that police body cameras be always on, and an end to the abusive use of police dogs. The list also includes a demand for a transformed IIO, which Holland says would require “Indigenous oversight and investigators, and removing ex-police from the IIO — to be a truly independent investigative office.”
“Our goal is to prevent these horrendous murders from happening in the name of Canada,” she says.
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