First Nations leaders in the Hazeltons area of northwestern B.C. are raising questions about the fatal shooting of a band member during an RCMP stakeout in their traditional territory on the weekend.
Police hoped to catch Rodney Jackson, 35, at a remote cabin in the First Nations hunting territory of Kisgegas, northwest of Smithers.
But as police moved in on Saturday, Jackson and another man were spotted with long guns, and during the attempted arrest Jackson was shot dead by an RCMP officer.
Gitanmaax Chief Marge McRae said Jackson may have been staying at a family cabin in the band's traditional hunting territory — an area known to have bears — and most people in the area pack a gun this time of year.
"That is a place we frequent … and this is hunting season now ... Because of our broken-down economy here, so many of my people have to rely on the hunting to survive. We have 80 to 90 per cent unemployment here," said McRae.
No details released
Police have yet to release details about the shooting and Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said it would be inappropriate to do so while the investigation continues.
"It wouldn't be in proper sequence to make comments as to what exactly occurred before we have the full investigation completed," Moskaluk said.
But Bev Clifton-Percival, a spokeswoman for the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, questioned the police actions.
"We're not sure why it seemed necessary to bring in a SWAT team … We are aware he did not fire a shot or run," Clifton-Percival said. "We have a large social structure that could have helped to mediate the situation … not the loss of life we've experienced in a very tight knit community.
"We're calling for an independent inquiry," Clifton-Percival said. "We want to be part of the investigation. We want to be reported to."
That call was echoed by First Nations Summit Grand Chief Ed John, who called for a "completely impartial investigation" that doesn't involve police, along with a meeting with top RCMP brass, on Tuesday.
Wanted on 5 warrants
Jackson, a member of the Gitanmaax First Nation, had previously been charged with assault, dealing drugs, uttering threats and resisting arrest. After he failed to show up for court nine months ago, police issued five warrants for his arrest.
Before the incident, the RCMP put out a warning that Jackson was dangerous, and asked for and received help from the public to locate him, Muskaluk said.
But each time they moved in to make an arrest, Jackson was able to slip away, he said.
McRae said the police had never warned the band that Jackson was wanted and might be violent
"Safety is the utmost concern to me … I was not aware of a danger … unless they sent me a letter I haven't read," McRae said.
Independent observer sent
Jackson was the fourth man shot and killed by Mounties in northern B.C. in the past five years and questions have been raised about how the RCMP has handled past investigations of their fellow officers.
An independent observer was sent by the federal Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP to monitor the team of investigators from the RCMP and the Delta Police Department who arrived to investigate the shooting on Sunday.
"The observer … will be assessing the independence and impartiality of the investigative team to ensure the investigation into this unfortunate incident will be unbiased," according to commission spokesman Kevin Brosseau.
But it took the observer a full day longer than the police to travel to the shooting scene, and B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director David Eby is concerned about the impartiality of the investigation.
"We're not inspired. We don't have any confidence in it," Eby said.
"These are the same people who investigated the [Ian] Bush shootings, the [Kevin] St. Arnaud shootings — did very poor investigations, very questionable investigations," Eby said.
B.C.'s police chiefs and senior members of the RCMP recently called on the B.C. government to create a civilian body to lead investigations into police shootings and other serious incidents.
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