'We failed,' Yukon RCMP says of in-custody death

Yukon RCMP have expressed shock and regret over the "insensitive and callous" way it treated Raymond Silverfox, who died after spending 13 hours in custody in 2008.
Raymond Silverfox, 43, died of acute pneumonia after spending 13 hours in RCMP custody on Dec. 2, 2008. A coroner's inquest concluded that he died of natural causes. ((Family photo))
The Yukon RCMP has expressed shock and regret over the "insensitive and callous" treatment of Raymond Silverfox, who died after spending 13 hours in custody in 2008.

The 43-year-old First Nations man from Carmacks, Yukon, was subjected to ridicule and mockery from RCMP members during the final hours of his life in the Whitehorse detachment's drunk tank, where he was kept from 5 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2008.

A coroner's inquest into Silverfox's death heard that he had vomited 26 times in his cell during the 13 hours he was in custody, but officers and guards assumed he was simply drunk.

Staff did not get medical attention for Silverfox until someone noticed he was not moving around 6:30 p.m. He died hours later in hospital of acute pneumonia.

The inquest also heard testimony from RCMP officers and guards who mocked and laughed at Silverfox, who lay in a pool of his own vomit and feces for hours.

One constable even told Silverfox to "sleep in your own shit" when the man had asked him for a mat, according to the transcript from an RCMP cell videotape.

Standards not met, RCMP head admits

'We have failed you, and we have failed ourselves.'—Supt. Peter Clark

"I am shocked, as are many members of the RCMP, and disappointed that Mr. Silverfox had to endure insensitive and callous treatment while in RCMP custody," Supt. Peter Clark, the head of the RCMP in the Yukon, wrote in a statement issued Tuesday.

"There is no doubt that in our care and handling of Mr. Silverfox, we failed to respect and live up to the standards and values that not only Yukoners, but all Canadians, expect us to meet," Clark added.

"We have failed you, and we have failed ourselves."

On Friday, following a week and a half of testimony and evidence, the coroner's inquest concluded that Silverfox had died of natural causes.

The inquest panel also came up with four recommendations for the RCMP, including one calling for the creation of a community consultative group to address the issue of public intoxication.

Family members outraged

Members of Raymond Silverfox's family, as well as First Nation members, have expressed anger about the man's treatment in RCMP custody. ((CBC))
The RCMP said it is currently reviewing the inquest report. As well, the force is "examining the actions of our employees, the corrective steps already taken, and our existing policies and procedures" to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future, according to the statement.

Silverfox's family and members of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation have expressed outrage with the RCMP's treatment of Silverfox, as well as the inquest panel's ruling that he died of natural causes.

Clark said that the RCMP "sincerely regrets the death of Raymond Silverfox" and extended its "deepest condolences to his family."

Last week, while the inquest was underway, the Yukon government announced that it would launch a public review of policing in the Yukon, which is served entirely by the RCMP.

"This is the reason that we are working co-operatively with the RCMP to review our policing … to make sure our Yukoners are safe," Justice Minister Marian Horne said Monday in the Yukon legislature.

Consultations related to the review will begin this summer and the committee is expected to table its findings this fall.

Liberal MLAs push for full inquiry

But the Yukon's opposition Liberal MLAs have been calling for a full public inquiry into Silverfox's death, despite the upcoming policing review.

"Whether changes made in RCMP procedures since the death of Mr. Silverfox are sufficient to prevent the occurrence of a similar incident — this question has not been resolved," Liberal Opposition Leader Arthur Mitchell said in the legislature on Monday.

"What has changed since the death occurred, in terms of the treatment of individuals who find themselves in the local drunk tank?" asked Liberal justice critic Don Inverarity.

Horne did not have a direct answer to Inverarity's question, but she insisted that the police review will ensure prisoner safety is dealt with.

"We will have changes. Now is the time for change because we have a new contract coming up next spring," she said, referring to the Yukon government's contract with the RCMP.