Justice system failed Frank Paul, left to die of hypothermia: report
A public inquiry has concluded the justice system failed Frank Paul, the aboriginal man who died of hypothermia after police left him in an alley in Vancouver more than 10 years ago.
Paul, a New Brunswick Mi'kmaq, died alone in a back alley in December 1998 after he had been picked up by police for being drunk in a public place, according to the interim report released Thursday by retired judge William Davies.
After Paul's arrest, a sergeant at the city drunk tank refused to take him in, and Paul was dragged to a police wagon and then dumped in the alley, where he died of hypothermia, the report said.
That sergeant was singled out in the report, which concluded his explanations for not admitting Paul must be rejected in their entirety.
Following the release of the contents of the inquiry, condemnation of police actions have poured in.
Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu issued a news release apologizing to Paul's family and the community.
"We deeply regret the loss of life caused by the mistakes our officers made, who had a duty of care for Mr. Paul," said Chu. "Since that tragic event, we have strengthened and modified certain policies, our procedures and training have been reinforced, and we continue to work closely with our public health partners to further safeguard the lives and well being of those in our care."
Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit of B.C. said he hopes the report will prompt a dialogue in the community.
"We need to talk to the Vancouver city mayor and council about it. We need to talk to the provincial government about it. We need to talk to our own community about it because this situation has happened far too often in our community."
B.C.'s solicitor general, however, believes Paul's death may not have been in vain.
"Well I'm hopeful that the family and First Nations people generally can take comfort from the fact that his life will be remembered as a catalyst for change, a catalyst for change not only in the need for independent oversight of police conduct, but also as catalyst for change in providing services to first nations people in particular."
The judge concluded Paul was in need of care and could not safely be discharged to the winter streets of Vancouver.
He also concluded the Vancouver Police Department failed to carry out an adequate investigation into the death, noting the investigating officer did not locate or interview several relevant witnesses.
He also criticized the BC Coroners Service for failing to notify Paul's family of his death in a timely and accurate manner and failing to maintain adequate records.
The report notes Paul's sister was told he died in a hit-and-run accident, and she did not learn the truth of her brother's death until three years later.