Brutalization of Indigenous People:
Public Inquiry Into the Death of Frank Paul Begins
By Aaron Mercredi
It has been nine years since the tragic death of Frank Paul, a 47-year old Miqmac man who was found frozen to death in a Vancouver alley, a victim of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). After years of demands for justice ringing through the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, after lobbying and pressure from Indigenous and social justice organizations, a public inquiry into the death of Frank Paul is finally underway, a full nine years after his death.
On December 6, 1998, Frank Paul showed up on a Vancouver Police station security camera. His lifeless, rain-soaked body was dragged in to the police station. He was known to the VPD, and was taken in to custody twice the night before to spend time in the drunk tank. He was released, and taken in again. This time, he was intoxicated to the point where he could not stand up or walk on his own. Yet, the head sergeant on duty declared that he was fit enough to be ‘breached’, meaning relocated out of the downtown area. The still unresponsive Frank Paul was caught on camera again, leaving a wet streak on the floor as his body was dragged out of the police station into a waiting paddywagon. This paddywagon delivered a Native man to his death. The two police officers leaned him against a wall in an alley in the Downtown Eastside, leaving him to freeze to death in the cold winter rain.
For nine years, the VPD has avoided being held accountable for their actions on that night when they knowingly left a Native man to die in the cold. The Paul family was originally told that he had died as the result of a hit-and-run accident. The empty internal investigations that only brought a two-day suspension for the jail sergeant and a one-day suspension for a police officer were an insult to the memory of Frank Paul and the people who were trying to bring justice in his case. They only showed that the police will not be held accountable for their actions. While those responsible for this crime kept their mouths shut, activists kept the issue alive.
A public inquiry which began on November 13 was finally called to probe into what happened on the night of Frank Paul’s death. Former Supreme Court Justice William Davies, who is heading up this inquiry, has stated that the focus is not to put anyone on trial, but to examine the overall failures of the different parties involved in the death of Frank Paul, and the response from the government departments and agencies to his death. However, the racist conduct involved in this case is undeniable, and this is a phenomenon everywhere in Canada. Because of this, the results of this case will have big implications for the many other incidents around Canada where Indigenous people have been abused or died at the hands of the police.
Centuries of Brutality
Historically, Native people have always been victims of Canada’s racist police agencies. From the formation of the North-West Mounted Police to deal with the ‘Native problem’ and to secure land and treaties for the government to the RCMP kidnappings of Native children from their homes and communities for the residential school system, Canada’s police have always been used against Indigenous people. What proof is there that this systemic racism and genocide doesn’t exist today? Five hundred Indigenous women have gone missing in this country without a proper investigation. Police are still arresting Indigenous people who are asserting their rights to their land. Young Native men in Saskatchewan are taken to the outskirts of the city to be beaten, stripped of their clothes and forced to fend for themselves in the prairie winter - cops there call this practice ‘Starlight Tours.’ In fact, the only thing that has been proven is that there is no justice for Native people on stolen land.
When the inquiry into Frank Paul’s death re-adjourns, the support rallies are going to start up again as well. Supporters are encouraged to come out to the Federal Court building (701 W. Georgia) at noon on January 7th, to bring the message to people in Vancouver and Canada that we demand justice for Frank Paul.
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