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Indigenous leaders blame RCMP response for Williams Lake First Nation man’s death-demand full independent public inquiry

Files by George Henderson, My Cariboo Now

Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs held a news conference this (Tuesday) morning calling for an independent public inquiry into the RCMP’s response to a call for help from the family of Rojun Alphonse, who ended up taking his own life.

WLFN Chief Willie Sellars was first to speak.

“The incident began with the family reporting to the RCMP their concerns about Rojun’s mental state and about the potential for self harm,” Sellars said.

Williams Lake First Nation news conference (Zachary Barrowcliff-MyCaribooNow-staff)

“What should have resulted in the welfare check with properly trained individuals instructed to de-escalate the situation to talk Rojun down instead resulted in a response by a swarm of ERT (Emergency Response Personnel) with automatic weapons, body armor, armed vehicles and tear gas.”

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Sellars said it was in the midst of this violent confrontation that Rojun took his life.

He added the situation was also escalated by the social media presence of onlookers that immediately branded it as a gang situation and treated it as such.

Sellars also questioned if this was a non-Indigenous person, would the result have been the same?

He added that justice should be applied equally because we all deserve justice.

Sellars said there hasn’t been necessary changes in our policing system in Canada for a long time.

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“What happened on Sunday, July 10th has significantly impacted our confidence in the system and it has entirely undermined our confidence in the system,” he stated.

Sellars said the big question now is what is wrong in the system that causes these outcomes and what are we doing about it to see change?

Union of BC Indian Chiefs President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said the issue is with the RCMP itself.

“The RCMP is populated with red necks that have an inherent blood lust against people of colour, black people, Indigenous people, Asian and South Asian people, and these incidents happen right across Turtle Island,” he said.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Legal Counsel for the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, also spoke.

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“When families call for support, they need support.  Culturally, safe support,” Turpel-Lafond stated.

“They don’t need tear gas and escalation, and police emergency response coming to cause so much distress that an individual acts in a way in response to that situation and harms himself in this tragic way. This is a tragic loss.”

Turpel-Lafond added that the services for public safety should be culturally safe that de-escalate conflict and treat people with respect.

She said it seems that this tragedy was preventable.

“This family should still have their father. This community should have their member.  So from a legal viewpoint there was a terrible wrong that occurred here.  There is a lot of explaining to do for how this happened.”

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Chief Sellars final comments were to make sure that the legacy and the memory of Rojun is never forgotten because of the change that he was able to make in the system.

The news conference also included some emotional speeches from the family.

It opened and closed with a prayer and a song.

The RCMP can’t comment right now as the incident is now being investigated by the Independent Investigations Office of BC.

The investigation will look into whether or not police actions contributed to the man’s death.

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