While David Eby says he understands the challenges facing the local RCMP in dealing with addiction and other issues, he also understands human and legal rights.
Eby is a lawyer with the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and he was in town last week for the second time, to hear people’s complaints regarding their treatment by the RCMP.
“The first time I was here I heard some very concerning allegations about police conduct in the area and I wanted to come back and talk to some more people and get a better sense of what was going on,” said Eby.
Over the period of his two visits, Eby has spoken to around 20 people in the community who had concerns.
“I think it’s an issue that a lot of communities have to grapple with, and that’s the issue of how do you respond to people that are drunk or high in public,” says Eby. “And also how do you deal with homelessness or underhousing situations.”
The difficulty for police is balancing the rights of the individuals with the interests of the community and the businesses.
While shortcuts can be taken in responding to these issues, Eby says the shortcuts can put people at risk and violate their legal rights.
The long-term solutions to these issues might be more complicated and more expensive, but these solutions would “respect people’s human rights and treat them like human beings with dignity.”
Eby says this is a familiar issue in communities across B.C. and there are some forces in the province doing some different things around the issue and others may be looking at these models as well.
Given the position of power police officers hold, there can be fear of retaliation for bringing complaints forward, especially in smaller communities like the Fort.
However, Eby is positive about going forward:
“I feel very fortunate in that a lot of people have placed trust in our organization to bring forward their concerns to the RCMP and I trust that the RCMP is going to treat that information appropriately and would never contemplate anything approaching retaliation.”
So far, the complainants have been overwhelmingly male, but for this visit, Eby brought with him two advocates from the organization Justice for Girls, which works to promote social justice for young women in poverty. Eby said he wanted women to feel more comfortable bringing their concerns forward, which they might not be speaking to a male lawyer.
The two women, Annabel Webb and Asia Czatska, wanted to hear from young women in the community.
While they did speak to some, they are only in the preliminary stages of their inquiries, and will continue to speak to women in the community and see where they need to go from there.
Eby says he will be sharing the complaints he heard with the RCMP so they can investigate their policies and some of their officers.
“We’re going to be keeping a very close eye on Fort St. James and also trying to build a relationship with the RCMP to get some of the issues that we’ve identified addressed,” says Eby.
The BC Civil Liberties Association will be opening up an office in Prince George, which will be staffed by volunteers. Eby is hoping these volunteers can continue to visit the Fort and he will be in Prince George on a regular basis.
The BC Civil Liberties Association published a report titled Small Town Justice on the RCMP in northern and rural B.C. earlier this year. The report, authored by Eby himself, brought forward concerns about RCMP conduct in communities he had visited last year, and created some pressure on the RCMP to examine some of their practices.