RCMP arrested Indigenous assault victim instead of taking her to hospital, inquest hears
B.C.'s police watchdog cleared officers of wrongdoing in 2017 death of Nadine Solonas in Quesnel
WARNING: This story contains graphic details of an assault.
RCMP responding to a 911 call about an assault on an Indigenous woman arrested the victim and took her to the local detachment in handcuffs instead of taking her to hospital, a coroner's inquest in Quesnel, B.C., has heard.
Nadine Solonas, a mother of five, died the next day after she was taken by medevac from the central Interior city to Vancouver, 400 kilometres to the south.
Several RCMP officers testified they believed Solonas was intoxicated and didn't know she had suffered a traumatic head injury.
The inquest into Solonas's death in October 2017 began on Monday with an opening prayer by her father, Ken Solonas, who said he hoped his daughter could rest in peace.
He held up a collage of photos from his daughter's life, including pictures of her as a young girl riding a bike.
"Nadine loved to laugh, play with her dolls and watch cartoons," he said. "She was loved by her family."
The inquest heard that Solonas was living in Room 31 at the Gold Pan Motel in Quesnel with her boyfriend, Richard Gregorig, in 2017.
On her 40th birthday, Solonas was attacked by a motel guest staying in a nearby room.
Gregorig told the inquest that Solonas had been "stomped on," and he called 911 for help.
Witnesses testified Solonas's face was swollen and bruised, and she was slurring her words.
The RCMP officers who responded to the emergency call arrested Solonas for breaching a restraining order that required her to stay away from Gregorig.
Officers testified they had no other option but to arrest her because the restraining order involved alleged domestic violence.
RCMP took Solonas to the Quesnel detachment in handcuffs, passing by Quesnel's G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital on the way.
Norma Throssell, then a paramedic, testified RCMP took Solonas away before she could be fully assessed.
"She had definitely been beaten around the head, and it was for sure a reason to go to the hospital," she said.
"Why would they take someone whose head was stomped on so many times to jail?" Gregorig asked the inquest, noting that the hospital was just two blocks from the motel.
Officers said they planned to have Solonas assessed by paramedics once she was at the detachment, but video surveillance played at the inquest showed Solonas was held there for about 40 minutes before paramedics took her to hospital.
Officers testified Solonas initially refused medical help. They told the inquest that RCMP cannot force someone to go to hospital against their will.
The video recordings show Solonas handcuffed on a bench in the RCMP detachment, at times swaying and slumped over as officers stand nearby and paramedics arrive.
Forty minutes later, the video ends as officers uncuff Solonas, and she walks, shuffling and unsteady, with paramedics to the ambulance.
She was taken to G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel and later flown to hospital in Vancouver, where she died.
Witnesses testified Solonas had spent time in foster care and later struggled with addictions, ill health and the psychological impacts of intergenerational trauma.
"She was extremely bright," said Marion Brouwer, a nurse who had known Solonas for years.
Brouwer choked back tears, saying, "It hurts me to know she died like this."
In 2020, a woman was sentenced to 56 days for assaulting Solonas at the Gold Pan Motel.
During the sentencing of Dawn Gunanoot, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather MacNaughton said that Solonas "joins the number of Indigenous women and girls for whose deaths our society and our justice system cannot provide satisfactory answers …."
"It is clear that the legacies of colonialism ... are implicated in her death. We grieve the loss of her life and the lives of many other Indigenous women who our systems have continually failed to protect."
Court records show Solonas's mother is of the Tl'azt'en First Nation and her father from the Nak'azdli Whut'en First Nation.
A 2017 investigation by B.C.'s police watchdog, the Independent Investigation Office of B.C., concluded there was no connection between Solonas's death and the "actions or inactions of police."
The inquest, in which a presiding coroner and a jury will hear evidence from witnesses to determine the facts surrounding the death, is scheduled to run to June 2.
The jury can make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances, but must not make any finding of legal responsibility or express any conclusion of law.