VICTORIA - The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is raising concerns about the RCMP's treatment of aboriginal people in northwest British Columbia after three people were hurt in separate incidents involving the Mounties.
But the RCMP accuses the association of grandstanding, pointing out the three incidents are all under investigation — two by outside police departments and the third by the RCMP's public complaints commission.
Three incidents over a recent five-week period resulted in two men suffering head injuries and a broken arm for a 15-year-old girl. They occurred in Prince Rupert and Terrace.
Civil liberties association spokesman David Eby said Tuesday each person ended up with injuries after concerned family members called the RCMP for help.
"We realized that all three had family members who'd called for help from the RCMP and what they ended up with were serious injuries for family members, and not only that, all of them were First Nations families," he said. "So, we sounded the alarm bell with the RCMP."
Eby said some aboriginals in northwest B.C. are now saying they have concerns about calling the RCMP for help.
The association said the girl's arm was broken April 4 during her arrest in Prince Rupert. Her family called 911 for help.
A statement released by the Prince Rupert RCMP following the incident, said police responded to a domestic dispute involving a mother and her 15-year-old daughter. Police said when officers arrived at the home they were told the girl wanted to harm herself.
The released further stated, "police confirmed with the girl that she was upset and wanted to take her own life. The female was apprehended under the Mental Health Act. She was also then arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer."
Police said the girl was injured in the arrest and was taken to hospital where she was diagnosed with a broken arm.
The Delta Police Department has since been asked to investigate the matter.
Eby said the second alleged incident occurred on April 21 in Terrace and involved Robert Wright, 47, who was arrested by RCMP and taken to the police lock up after his wife called for help.
Eby said following Wright's arrest he was taken to hospital by air ambulance suffering from serious head injuries. Eby said Wright has recently come out of a coma, but has suffered a brain injury.
New Westminster police are conducting an investigation.
The RCMP statement on the April 21 incident said the Mounties were investigating a complaint of a possible impaired driver when a suspect who was taken into custody was injured. The statement said the man was taken to hospital three times on the same night, but was later airlifted to Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.
The RCMP said video from the police vehicle and cells are being included in the investigation.
The civil liberties association said the third alleged incident occurred on May 15, and involved Terrace resident William Watts, 36, who suffered head injuries and "alleges he was punched after he was handcuffed, subjected to racial taunts, and had his head put in a bag by police."
Eby said the incident occurred after Watts called police for help with a family member.
The RCMP did not issue a statement on the alleged incident involving Watts other than confirm one of the three alleged incidents is being pursued by the RCMP's public complaints commission.
"Our concern is you've got three families in a very small geographic area who called for help, who are now saying when we called for help, the result was worse than if we just left it alone," said Eby.
RCMP Supt. Ray Bernoties issued a statement Tuesday saying the three alleged incidents are under investigation, but his statement was also highly critical of the civil liberties association, saying the association is seeking attention when it already knows the incidents are subjects of independent external investigations.
"I am disappointed that the BCCLA would grandstand on these files when they know full well that there are independent external investigations ongoing by the New Westminster Police, Delta Police and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP," said the statement.
The statement said the Mounties will not comment on the cases while they are being investigated, but are prepared to comment if any of the incidents results in charges against officers.
Eby said he spoke with the Mounties prior to Tuesday's press conference in Vancouver and was told the RCMP had assigned an officer to investigate the three cases and it was taking the matter seriously.
Eby said the RCMP's record of investigating itself is not good.
"I'm sorry to say this about the RCMP, but where there is a serious incident involving RCMP officers where someone's injured or killed, they have a terrible track record for announcing what the actual facts were," he said.