B.C.’s police watchdog is investigating after Mounties shot and killed an Indigenous man near Tofino Saturday night.
Two Tofino RCMP officers were called to Opitsaht First Nation on Meares Island, north of Tofino, at around 9:30 p.m. “to locate a woman in distress,” BC RCMP said in a news release. They said a call came in reporting a woman allegedly being held against her will.
Details on what happened next are vague. BC RCMP said an “interaction” took place with an unspecified number of people. One man was shot and another was taken into custody.
The woman was taken to hospital for assessment and no one else was injured.
RCMP said the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. was notified and would be attending the scene of the shooting on Sunday.
RCMP aren’t releasing any more information because the shooting is under investigation by the IIO. The IIO investigates all police-involved incidents that result in serious harm or death to a person.
Vancouver Island General Investigative Section is also looking into the allegation that the woman was being held against her will. The man who was arrested remains in custody.
Indigenous leaders have identified the man killed as 28-year-old Julian Jones, according to CBC.
One legal activist who knew of the victim said he was an Indigenous man, well-known in the communities of Tofino and Port Alberni.
“I started to get texts on my telephone very early this morning advising me that a young man of maybe 28 years old had been shot to death by the RCMP,” said Hugh Braker, president of the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of BC (NCCABC). The organization appears at all levels of court with Indigenous people who have come into conflict with the law.
His gut reaction, he said, was one of shock and sadness. “Then I resigned myself to the fact that it has happened yet again.”
It’s the second police-involved killing of a Tla-o-qui-aht member in the last year after Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a member of the Edmundston Police Force in New Brunswick last spring during a wellness check.
“Tla-o-qui-aht only has a little over 1,200 members, and yet they have lost two to police shooting within one year,” Baker said. “That’s just an astounding figure and one that everyone should be appalled by.”
Quebec’s police watchdog, investigating on behalf of New Brunswick, concluded in December that Moore was fatally shot after she allegedly opened the door to her apartment holding a knife and walked toward an officer. The shooting sparked outcry from members of the public and politicians who said wellness checks should not end fatally, and First Nations who said they were not consulted or included in the probe.
The NCCABC is now calling for an open, independent inquiry into the most recent fatal shooting that is free of police involvement and includes First Nations representation, said Braker.
“If you’re going to have the confidence of the public of Canada in the justice system it’s got to be open, they’ve got to see what’s happening.”
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Leader Judith Sayers in nearby Port Alberni said she had spoken with the chief of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and that many questions about what happened were still unanswered.
“You just feel so bad for the community, for the family, that this happened and I just really, really want to know why such excessive force is being used,” she said.
The IIO confirmed to CHEK it was investigating the police-involved shooting, saying it was informed by RCMP that officers were called to a report of a woman being held against her will at a home at Opitsaht at around 9:30 p.m.
Investigators spent most of the day traveling to the island and were not able to provide many further details, including whether the man shot was armed at the time.
“The circumstances surrounding the shooting, we don’t know, we have some information that we have received, but our job is to confirm the information and find out for ourselves what happened,” said IIO Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald.
“They are there now, they are conducting interviews and doing scene examinations and doing all the work that goes along with that.”
The watchdog is now asking anyone with information on the incident to contact its IIO witness line at 1-855-446-8477.
With files from CBC British Columbia.