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Monday, June 02, 2008

Mom keeps pushing for reform of in-custody death inquests

June 2, 2008
Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun

Linda Bush, whose 22-year-old son was fatally shot while in RCMP custody, continues her crusade for reform this week as another inquest into a police shooting begins.

Her son Ian was killed Oct. 29, 2005 in a scuffle with a young constable in the Houston detachment. There were no witnesses and there have been hugely different interpretations of the forensic evidence. His mom thought she might learn what actually happened through the inquest process: She was sadly disappointed.

Bush had to get her own lawyer to represent the family and even then, the institutional participants closed ranks and turned the inquest into a fait accompli.

Ever since, she has been pushing for a change to how in-custody deaths are investigated and also for a change to B.C.'s inquest system. We're about to see another inquest, this one in Williams Lake, into the death of 43-year-old Don Lewis, shot by a rookie RCMP officer Aug. 13, 2006, near McLeese Lake. Coroner Shane DeMeyer, the same man who conducted the inquiry into Ian Bush's death at the hands of an inexperienced RCMP constable, will oversee it.

Linda plans to be there with Don's widow Sara when the inquest opens today.

Quebec, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan all have independent civilian review boards to remove any bias in internal police investigations when someone is seriously hurt or killed while in custody. Why doesn't B.C. do the same?

Good question.

Here is how Linda Bush summed up the process and the grandiloquent claims the coroner's service likes to make about answering the questions surrounding such a death: "It does not provide an independent investigation, but relies entirely on the evidence provided by the original investigators as does the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP. In this case, as in Ian's, the RCMP had complete control of the investigation into a shooting by a fellow RCMP officer. A coroner's inquest cannot assess blame, only find the facts. There will be few verifiable facts other than that Don Lewis was fatally shot by an RCMP officer. This is already a known fact, so it will be a very expensive process which will provide very little, if any, service to the public."

While no one looks out for the families of the victims, there's a bottomless pit of public money for the institutional participants.

That's what's wrong. No matter what you think about Ian Bush's death or any other individual who has died in custody, we should fix this.

Murray Mollard, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, has been out front with Linda, saying that without legal representation, family members of the deceased are stymied in their attempts to get answers at inquests.

This is an incredibly germane point with the inquest into the Taser death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport in the offing. Taxpayers pay the coroner's staff, the lawyer for the RCMP and, if he has hired one, the lawyer for the officer involved, as well as the overhead. No one provides a lawyer for the deceased's family or covers any of the expenses for them to attend the inquest.

In the Lewis case, Bush points out, Sara lives in Pemberton, so she must pay for the lawyer she has engaged plus her own bills. She must also find a sitter for her daughter. Don's mother and siblings live in the U.S. and cannot attend.

Lewis will be represented by Cameron Ward, who is only charging his travel expenses.

He also represented the family of Kevin Edmond St. Arnaud, the 29-year-old welder shot by police in December 2004, who was the subject of an inquest last year.

"I am asking people interested in the justice system and concerned with the futility of the coroner's inquest, the Commission for Complaints Against the RCMP, and the practice of police investigating police to help me help Sara," Bush said.

"Any small donation to pay for accommodations and meals would be welcome. It can be sent to me at 5009 Morgan Rd., Houston, B.C., V0J 1Z2, given to Sara in Williams Lake, or deposited in the Royal Bank, account #02240 - 5050919."

There are several problems with the inquest system, in her view, including the fact that most happen way too long after the fact. She believes changes must be made to the Coroner's Act, RCMP training and procedures and how police are investigated.

I couldn't agree more.

"I am doing this because no matter what the circumstances, no family should have to face an inquest alone," Bush said.

No kidding.

For more information, visit the petition for Change to BC's Internal Police Investigation System.

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