Complaints Commission Releases Report into the In-Custody Death of Mr. Raymond Silverfox in Whitehorse, Yukon, on December 2, 2008
The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has released its report into the in-custody death of Mr. Raymond Silverfox, which took place in Whitehorse, Yukon, on December 2, 2008.
The troubling circumstances of Mr. Silverfox's death are already well known to many Yukon residents as a result of an April 2010 coroner's inquest. The impact on the Territory was understandably emotional. Mr. Silverfox's death played a large role in propelling the Government of Yukon, Yukon RCMP and Council of Yukon First Nations to initiate a comprehensive review of policing in the Yukon which culminated in the January 2011 release of Sharing Common Ground – Review of Yukon's Police Force.
Simply stated, the case of Raymond Silverfox represented a failure on the part of RCMP members to provide reasonable care to an individual who was clearly in a state of physical distress.
Mr. Silverfox's interactions with the RCMP began with compassion on the part of the RCMP members who arrested him for public intoxication (to avoid his potential exposure to the elements). However, the 13 hours Mr. Silverfox subsequently spent in the Whitehorse RCMP cells—in what is colloquially called the "drunk tank" —descended into callousness and open mockery.
Mr. Silverfox endured deplorable cell conditions caused by continual bouts of vomiting. He was treated dismissively despite the fact that he was clearly in distress. The severity of Mr. Silverfox's condition did not diminish during his time in cells.
The contents of the guardroom audio tapes, which captured the comments of several guards and RCMP members, clearly demonstrate that certain individuals failed to meet the standards expected of the RCMP, namely that members "... act in a courteous, respectful and honourable manner." In fact, the treatment of Mr. Silverfox lacked common decency.
In the early hours of December 2, 2008, Whitehorse RCMP members responded to a complaint from the Salvation Army shelter. The RCMP members arrived at the shelter and arrested Raymond Silverfox for public intoxication and causing a disturbance. After being medically cleared for incarceration, Mr. Silverfox was transported to the RCMP's Whitehorse Detachment and held in custody. During that time he went into medical distress and stopped breathing. He was taken to hospital where medical staff was unable to revive him and he died shortly thereafter.
The Commission initiated a complaint into Mr. Silverfox's death on December 12, 2008. The Commission examined all conduct by RCMP members involved in the arrest and subsequent detention of Mr. Silverfox in RCMP cells.
In its final report released today, the Commission found that while the initial RCMP response and detention of Mr. Silverfox were reasonable, members failed to properly document and assess Mr. Silverfox throughout his arrest and subsequent detention. In addition, the Commission went on to identify several shortfalls with respect to the monitoring of the cell block and prisoners, as well as the supervision of the guards who were charged with the care of Mr. Silverfox while in cells.
In particular, even though medical assistance was immediately requested once Mr. Silverfox was found to be unresponsive, the Commission determined that the members and guards on duty failed to properly assess and seek medical assistance for Mr. Silverfox as his illness progressed throughout his time in cells.
Among others, the Commission found that certain RCMP members and guards on duty:
- failed to comply with detachment policy requiring that intoxicated prisoners be asked to provide a breath sample prior to incarceration;
- failed to ensure that Mr. Silverfox's cell was safe and habitable;
- failed to provide and/or were not provided with adequate supervision;
- performed an insufficient number of physical checks in respect of Mr. Silverfox; and
- did not properly communicate information about Mr. Silverfox amongst themselves.
One area of public concern is the duty of care owed to persons in RCMP custody. Comments made in respect of Mr. Silverfox by members on duty and captured on guardroom audiotape illustrate the dangers of classifying someone as just another drunk.
The Commission recommended that all members of the Whitehorse RCMP Detachment, as well as guards and matrons employed by the Detachment, be provided with training or further guidance:
- on creating a respectful environment and interacting in a manner consistent with the RCMP's core values;
- regarding signs and symptoms of impairment, and medical conditions that may arise therefrom;
- related to the importance of and the need for meaningful, thorough and consistent communication with respect to persons in custody at the Whitehorse RCMP Detachment; and
- by local medical professionals addressing the recognition of medical issues arising from alcohol or drug consumption.
The public expects a certain standard of behaviour from its police officers. In the case of Mr. Silverfox's tragic death, the Commission found that those standards were not met. Although compassion motivated the initial decision to jail Mr. Silverfox, complacency and callousness characterized the remainder of his stay at the Whitehorse Detachment.
The report makes 17 separate recommendations and 39 findings—all of which have been accepted by the RCMP Commissioner.
"Mr. Silverfox's death was a catalyzing event which incited great public concern. However, the RCMP's response to the Commission's report reflects its commitment to positive changes in Yukon policing and should represent a model for other jurisdictions. It is my hope that this improvement will be the enduring legacy of Mr. Silverfox's tragic death." said Commission Interim Chair Ian McPhail.
For more information, please contact:
Jamie Robertson, Director of Communications
By phone: 613-875-0676
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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