How did a 77-year-old mother and her son end up dead after shots were fired in broad daylight outside their village home?

The truth may not be revealed until Christmas, 2017. 

That's because the independent civilian-led police watchdog, the Independent Investigation Office, is dealing with a staggering number of cases and now takes up to 18 months to complete an investigation.

The prospect of more than a year of official silence has outraged family and friends of Shirley Williams, 77, and her son, Jovan Williams, 39.

Mother and son were shot dead during an RCMP stand-off at their home in Granisle, B.C.

."We are left just totally in the dark," said Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adams, a community leader who recently met with the IIO's lead investigator. "No information. No communication." 

Chief Wilf Adam

"This is one way to make sure the drugs and alcohol don't take over the community," said Chief Wilf Adam who volunteered to be first in line for drug and alcohol testing. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC )

The IIO blames the long wait, in part, on the large number of cases of police-involved serious injury or death. 

"The challenge we have with the timeliness of our investigations, keep in mind that we have approximately 57 open cases as of today," said Marten Youssef, IIO's manager of strategic communications. 

"In one year, we had 20 officer-involved fatalities. This [Shirley and Jovan Williams case] is our first double fatality. It's an incredible strain on our resources." 

Probe may take 18 months 

"We are currently closing cases in approximately 14 to 18 months," said Youssef, who agrees it is a long time to wait. "It is. It is. We completely understand the frustration the family and the community would have.This is the reality we have to operate with at this time."

The IIO is an independent, civilian body funded by B.C.'s Ministry of Justice.  It's charged with investigating officer-related incidents of death or serious harm in order to determine whether or not an officer may have committed an offence.

Granisle sign

People are seeking answers about a double shooting during an RCMP stand-off in this quiet northern B.C. village. (Village of Granisle)

The IIO has yet to reveal if RCMP officers fired the fatal shots in this case.  And it's released virtually no information about how an alleged dispute between village neighbours escalated into an RCMP stand-off that left mother and son dead.

"It is not possible to provide little bits of information here or there, as our investigation continues," said Youssef. "It is not possible for the IIO to provide a conclusive and independent overview until our investigation is complete." 

Community leaders agree a thorough investigation is required.  But they can't believe official silence is the best way forward. 

Chief Adams says these shooting deaths are even worse than a more widely-known tragedy in his community in 2014. He's thinking back to the Babine mill explosion that killed two and left 19 badly injured.  

"When the mill exploded in Burns Lake, at least there was some communication flow," he said. "We knew generally what was happening. Here, we knew that the young man and his mother were shot. That's where it stops.

"There is absolutely no information going out," said Adams. "Absolutely nothing. All they told me is,' It's under investigation."

'I just want answers'

Last week, pallbearers from the Cheslatta Carrier and Lake Babine First Nations and a United Steelworkers union leader carried Shirley and Jovan Williams's simple wooden coffins into a crowded Catholic church. Mourners at the double funeral remembered them as beloved, generous, and gentle. 

Kris Peters worked with Jovan Williams for six years at the Lake Babine band office. "He was a really kind, gentle man. I just don't understand why it happened to such a nice guy," she said. 

"I just want answers why this has happened,," said Peters. "I think the cops went overboard."

"It's important we get the truth out," said Chief Adams. 

'We don't know if a crime was committed or not'

Lengthy delays are increasingly common across the province, said Josh Patterson, executive director of the 
B.C. Civil Liberties Association "It's unfortunate. It's difficult for communities, for families and also for police officers who are under suspicion for a long period of time."

In the meantime, there's no police accountability, said Patterson. 

"The RCMP carries on. We don't know if a mistake was made, if a crime was committed by officers, or not," he said. 

"We certainly have to question why lethal force had to be used that day in Granisle," Patterson said. "The public do need to have some idea of what went on.  It's not a good answer to say, 'nobody's going to say anything for two years until we've figured out every last detail.'"

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story attributed a direct quote to the IIO that said in one year, the organization had 20 "RCMP-involved fatalities." In fact, the quote should have said "officer-involved fatalities" as the fatalities also involved officers from municipal forces.
    May 11, 2016 12:50 PM PT