Five RCMP Officers Charged in Killing of Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan Man Dale Culver

Feb 1, 2023

Five RCMP Officers Charged in Killing of Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan Man Dale Culver

Banner saying, Racism Kills! Defund Police and Prisons

Dale Culver, a 35-year-old Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan man and father of three children, was killed by RCMP officers during a brutal arrest on the night of July 18, 2017, in Prince George, British Columbia.  On February 1, 2023, almost six years later, the BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) announced that manslaughter charges have been approved against two of the Prince George RCMP officers responsible. Three other Prince George RCMP officers have been charged with attempting to obstruct justice over their actions immediately following the arrest.

Constable Paul Ste-Marie and Constable Jean Francois Monette are charged with manslaughter contrary to section 236(b) of the Criminal Code. Constable Arthur Dalman, Constable Clarence (Alex) Alexander MacDonald, and Sergeant Bayani (Jon) Eusebio Cruz are charged with attempting to obstruct justice contrary to section 139(2) of the Criminal Code. The first appearance for all officers is scheduled for March 14, 2023, in Prince George Provincial Court.

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO) had recommended charges in 2020 against the five officers in the death of Dale Culver with two charges over the use of force and three for obstruction of justice recommended. IIO chief civilian director Ron MacDonald said the IIO was independently aware of allegations of witnesses being told to delete video footage. He also said the IIO was aware of questions regarding police use of force and the rushed timing of Mr. Culver’s arrest.


Racism and Intimidation in the Killing of Dale Culver

The charged RCMP officers took part in Culver’s arrest allegedly following a call about someone looking at vehicles. Culver was pepper prayed and witness video shows that four officers pinned him to the ground afterwards. It has not been independently confirmed that Culver or anyone else was “casing vehicles.” Even if he was, being killed by police is an outrageous price to pay for looking at cars. As family member Tracey Speed put it: “He was an Indigenous man on a bike in the wrong place at the wrong time and that’s exactly what happened to him and completely surrounded by police officers, who saw an Indigenous man on a bike and thought that he was doing something wrong because of the colour of his skin.”

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) earlier raised questions of “racial bias” and excessive force by RCMP officers in their arrest and killing of Mr. Culver. In an official complaint filed January 16, 2018, to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the BCCLA also claimed that the RCMP in Prince George, BC, told witnesses to delete video footage of the Culver arrest. According to police reports, Culver complained of shortness of breath after arrest and was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Culver’s cousin, Debbie Pierre, said she was not informed of his death until 24 hours later. She then found video footage of the arrest posted on social media. In her words: “It was horrific.” The family had questions about Culver’s death and contacted the BCCLA to get some answers.

Police reports suggest the RCMP responded to a call about a man allegedly “casing vehicles.” This claim has not been independently confirmed nor has it been explained what that assumption was based on by caller or police. Police struggled with Mr. Culver physically.

It was also reported that pepper spray used in his arrest. When he was put in the back of a police vehicle he appeared to have difficulty breathing. An ambulance was called, and Mr. Culver collapsed when taken out of the police car. He was pronounced dead in hospital a bit after midnight on July 19, 2017.

According to then-executive director Josh Paterson, BCCLA spoke with “a number of people, including eyewitnesses” who allege RCMP instructed people to delete video footage of the arrest. The association questioned whether “explicit or implicit racial bias” played a role in the encounter and arrest. BCCLA says it was told there were “several hours” between the initial call to police and the arrival of RCMP on the scene. This raises obvious questions about why and how Dale Culver was approached and, specifically, whether it was because he was Indigenous.

In the words of the BCCLA complaint:

“We question on what information or basis the member or members of the RCMP began their interaction or questioning of Mr. Culver, and/or a request to identify himself, in the first place.”

Debbie Pierre was left with the same question. In her words: “Was Dale targeted because of Dale or was he targeted because of his being Indigenous.”

BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee, who lives in and works out of Prince George, pointed to systemic racism throughout criminal justice institutions after the initial charge recommendations: “We see it to this day the issue of how colonial policies has really entrenched itself in terms of racism within the police force and we’re seeing that in general in society. But in particular its police force, we’re seeing high incarceration rates, profiling of Indigenous peoples, which really lends itself to really a stereotypical, I suppose, view of Indigenous peoples and racism towards Indigenous peoples.”

This is certainly borne by IIO reporting of police violence. According to the IIO, Indigenous Peoples represent just 6% of BC’s population in the 2016 census. Yet, Indigenous Peoples represented 28% of the 67 people who self-identified their ethnicity, and 9.5% of all 201 people seriously injured or killed by police.


A Dire Record of Unaccountability for Police

There is no accountability for police in the form that families, loved ones, and communities desire it. A 2020 report found that across Canada, charges were laid or forwarded to Crown prosecutors for consideration in only three to nine per cent of the cases undertaken by the provincial agencies. For the IIO in BC, of 127 investigations in 2018-19, three were referred for potential charges to the Crown.

In fiscal year 2021-2022, the IIO received a total of 323 notifications. This number represents a steady increase year-over-year since 2017-2018 when 173 notifications were received. In 2021-2022, they began 193 new investigations and referred 12 investigations to Crown Counsel (BC Prosecution Service) for consideration of charges. In fiscal year 2020-2021, eight investigations were referred to the BC Prosecution Service for consideration of charges. Of those eight, charges have been approved in one file, no charges were approved in two files, and the remaining five are pending charge assessment.


Content Warning:

The available video footage of the arrest can be viewed here:

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