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A coroner's inquest into the Dec. 2, 2008, death of Raymond Silverfox concluded that he died of natural causes. His family disagrees, arguing that his treatment by RCMP officers and guards should have been a factor in his death. ((Family photo))

The family of Raymond Silverfox, the Yukon man who died after being kept in an RCMP cell for 13 hours, is challenging a coroner's inquest that concluded he died of natural causes.

In a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court late last week, Silverfox's family alleged that territorial coroner Sharon Hanley showed bias in favour of the RCMP in her conduct during last month's inquest.

"Really, I don't think it was neutral," Deanna Lee Charlie, Silverfox's daughter, told CBC News during a vigil and march in her father's memory on Friday in Whitehorse.

"I think it was more in favour [of] the RCMP."

Silverfox, a 43-year-old member of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, died on Dec. 2, 2008, after spending 13 hours in the Whitehorse RCMP detachment's drunk tank.

The inquest, which took place April 15-23 in Whitehorse, heard that RCMP officers and detachment guards did not check on Silverfox's health, although he had vomited 26 times during the 13 hours he was in cells.

The inquest also heard that officers and guards ridiculed and mocked Silverfox as he lay in a pool of his own vomit and excrement. He was later taken to hospital, where he died of acute pneumonia.

Wants public inquiry

The inquest panel's ruling that Silverfox had died of natural causes angered Silverfox's family members and First Nations leaders, who said the RCMP's treatment of Silverfox was likely a factor in his death.

The court petition asks the Yukon Supreme Court to review and quash the inquest findings. Silverfox's family also wants a full public inquiry called into the man's death.

The petition specifically raises concerns with Hanley's handling of RCMP audio and video footage from the cellblock and guard room on the day Silverfox was in custody.

The family alleges that Hanley had denied their lawyer access to the unedited transcript of the audio tapes. As well, the inquest panellists were not allowed to see and hear evidence from the audio and video, the family claims.

The petition also claims that the coroner's lawyer presented questions that justified the conduct of RCMP officers and detachment guards.

As well, Silverfox's family claims that Hanley was seen hugging the RCMP's lawyer in the courtroom at the end of the inquest.

Should the original inquest findings be overturned, the family's petition wants the court to prohibit Hanley from holding a new inquest, according to the petition.

Lawsuit also filed

The family submitted its petition not long after Charlie filed a civil lawsuit against 11 individual RCMP members and guards who were on duty the day Silverfox was in custody.

The lawsuit also names the Attorney General of Canada and the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, the latter being the guard's employer.

No hearing date has been set for either legal proceeding.

On Friday night, Charlie and other members of Silverfox's family led more than 200 mostly First Nations people on a march to the Whitehorse RCMP detachment from the Salvation Army shelter, where Silverfox had been picked up by police.

Many of the march participants carried signs demanding justice for Silverfox. Some carried flowers, while others held candles.

"Human beings need to be treated better than Trevor the dog," participant Elaine Shorty said, referring to the Yukon Supreme Court case last year in which a dog was spared from euthanization at the city pound.

"Our RCMP are there; they have a mandate — it's called 'serve and protect.' And unfortunately, it's looking more and more like serve and protect themselves."

Top Mountie speaks after vigil

As the vigil ended, and people began to leave, RCMP commanding Supt. Peter Clark emerged from the detachment and spoke with reporters.

"I can only go ahead from here where we are today. The past is the past, and we must never forget it," Clark said.

"Some terrible things have happened. There's a lot of good things have happened, though, too."

The death of Silverfox has prompted the Yukon government and the RCMP to launch a joint review of policing in the Yukon. Another government task force has been created to examine ways to better help extremely intoxicated persons, in part because of details that emerged from the Silverfox inquest.

As well, Clark announced earlier this month that five RCMP officers face internal investigations related to Silverfox's treatment in custody.

Patsy Cashin, Silverfox's cousin, said Friday's vigil gave the national police force a clear message.

"I think they've got it. They have the message. They know what it is," she said.