Family members of Raymond Silverfox, a Yukon man who died in RCMP custody in 2008, say they are devastated and outraged over the way officers treated him in the hours before he died.
Silverfox, 43, a member of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation in Carmacks, Yukon, died on Dec. 2, 2008, after being kept for 12 hours in the Whitehorse RCMP detachment's drunk tank.
Evidence and testimony from a coroner's inquest this week show that Silverfox was left to lie in a pool of his own vomit and feces for the entire time he was in custody, before any medical attention was given.
The panel also heard that RCMP officers and guards who were on duty mocked Silverfox, ridiculed his moans, and laughed about the dirty conditions in his cell.
"This whole thing is very devastating to me and it's just wrong how they treated my father," Silverfox's daughter, Deanna Charlie, told reporters on Wednesday.
"My father was a very kind, gentle man," Charlie added, sobbing. "I loved my dad so much and I don't know how these people can ever do such a thing to him."
Since the inquest began April 15, Charlie and about 30 other family members gasped and sobbed as they listened to various testimony about Silverfox's last hours.
The inquest has heard that Silverfox was picked up early in the morning of Dec. 2 at a Whitehorse shelter, after he had spent the night drinking with friends.
On Wednesday, a transcript from a cell-block videotape showed Silverfox asked one officer, Const. Geoff Corbett, if he could have a mattress to sleep on, only to be told, "No, you can sleep in your own shit."
Corbett broke down in tears during his testimony, apologizing for his statement and conceding that it was unprofessional, disrespectful and inappropriate.
Corbett said he is subject to an RCMP code of conduct investigation, and he understood that discipline would be forthcoming.
The video transcript also showed a guard, Hector MacLellan, laughing about Silverfox's dirty cell that afternoon, saying at one point, "It's the worst I've seen in five years. I hope he's comfortable."
A short time later, a watch commander noticed Silverfox was not moving, and an ambulance was called.
'This is not right'
"It's so unbelievable, I can't talk about it right now. It's too hurtful," Silverfox's sister, Debbie Silverfox, told reporters.
Members of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation held a prayer circle outside the Whitehorse courthouse as the inquest was underway.
"This is not right. This is not the way things should be," Chief Eddy Skookum said. "If procedure was followed, we would not be here."
The inquest also heard on Wednesday that Silverfox's girlfriend phoned the Whitehorse RCMP detachment late that afternoon, asking about his whereabouts.
MacLellan told the telephone operator that Silverfox was still drunk and could not be released — although the cell guard told the inquest panel he knew at that point that Silverfox was no longer intoxicated.
Yukon to review RCMP
The inquest has prompted the Yukon's politicians to start an overall review of RCMP policing in the territory.
MLAs voted unanimously on Wednesday to create a review committee, which will begin its work right away and present a report to the territorial government by Sept. 15.
The current inquest is evidence that a police review is necessary, Mayo-Tatchun Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough told the legislative assembly.
"This particular person, who was a friend of mine and I knew all my life, was a decent person. And whatever situation he found himself in, he went into police custody that night and he was never to walk out alive again," Fairclough said.
"There's so much frustration there between the family, the First Nations and others, and improvement needs to take place."
RCMP officials have said they would be in full support of a review.
Opposition politicians tried twice to pass an amendment to ensure the committee includes representatives from minority groups such as youth, elders and the poor.
However, Premier Dennis Fentie and his Yukon Party cabinet used its majority in the legislature to reject that amendment.