Thursday, February 22, 2007

What happened the night police left Frank Paul to die

VICTORIA -It’s hard to let go of Frank Paul and the way he died, dumped in a Vancouver alley, on a cold night, by police.
Maybe it’s because he was the kind of guy who needed protecting.
Paul was a skinny little man with damaged hands, a Micmac from New Brunswick who ended up on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, homeless and drinking too much.
Who knows, maybe Paul, then 47, would be dead by now anyway.
Or maybe he’d be back home in Big Cove, doing better.
But three weeks before Christmas in 1998 two Vancouver police officers found him in an alley, semiconscious. They called a patrol wagon.
Video from the jail shows Paul being dragged from the wagon, down a hallway and up in an elevator to the floor with cells. He doesn't  move. A nurse walks past twice as he lies on the floor.
Then the video then shows Paul being dragged back out by his feet. The patrol wagon tried to take him to a detox centre, where he was rejected. So police left him in an alley.
A few hours later, the same officers who picked up Paul up the first time found him dead of hypothermia, sprawled half-dressed in the cold and rain.
It’s case that cried out for answers. Why wasn’t Paul kept at the jail or taken to hospital? What were the police department policies about dealing with semiconscious people?
But nothing happened. No one would likely have known about the case until problems started mounting in the police complaints commissioner’s office in 2002. It was revealed then that staff had been pressing the commissioner to call a public inquiry for two years. He refused.
It took until 2004, but the new police complaint commissioner, Dirk Ryneveld, recommended the government call a public inquiry. At least two witnesses had never been interviewed, he learned.
Rich Coleman, then solicitor general, refused. A coroner’s inquiry and an internal police review were enough to answer all the questions.
It seemed an inadequate answer even then.
Then this week Greg Fiolotte came forward. He was a corrections officer and says he helped drag Paul to the police van that night.
No one from the Vancouver Police Department has ever interviewed him to find out what happened, he said. At best the department didn’t want to know what really happened, he said, and at at worst it already knew but didn’t want the facts to become public.
How could one of a handful of witnesses — and one of only a few not part of the police department — never be interviewed?
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs wants answers. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the investigation looks like a sham. He wants a public inquiry.
So does Dana Urban. He was a legal advisor to the police commissioner, one of the people who unsuccessfully argued for an inquiry seven years ago.
Urban is in Kosovo now. He’s an international prosecutor with the United Nations, dealing with human rights abuses and war crimes,
Despite all he’s seen, he told the Globe and Mail, he’s had a hard time letting go of Paul’s death too.
The most basic Canadian right — the right to life — was violated that night, Urban said. The people sworn to protect Paul and entrusted to investigate his death failed him. “I will never forget the shame I felt, and continue to feel for my country and its people," Urban said.
Solicitor General John Les ruled out an inquiry Wednesday. But the next day, he reversed his decision. An inquiry will finally be held
It’s been a long time since Paul died in that alley.
We owe him, and ourselves, some answers, about what happened and whether anything needs to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Footnote: Why did Les change his mind? The premier got invovled, likely because the renewed interest in Paul’s death comes at a critical time in the government’s new relationship with First Nations. Despite progress on some fronts frustration is growing with the pace of change. First Nation leaders have had a larger concern about police treatment of natives for some time. Failing to act would have caused more problems.


Anonymous said...

What kind of a system are we operating under? Two solicitor Generals in a row refuses to do anythin about this fellows death. But when another party lets it be know he wasn't interviewed and was on site,SG. Les is having a change of mind. He is because to not do it, would be one more crapy deal this government let slide. Hell, he was just a drunk, and a Indian to boot. Some heads should role, and the nurse who wandered by him laying on the floor best get a talking to as well. Is this BC part of Canada, or part of some banana republic where the citizens gets ingored unless she or he would have the ability to make noises. If as you suggest the Premier got involved , that simply tells me he did to make mislef look like the guy who is so ready for reconsiliation.
Shame on the BC Government. and by God, the cops should get some lectures on how not to be stupid. If they are burned out from dealing with the great unwashed go find another job. Heck a security firm will hire them for around 10 bucks an hour

Anonymous said...

Thanks for filling in all that background. I thought this was a shameful incident and a single human tragedy, but the subsequent story of how it was mishandled by police and provinial authorities elevates the shame and tragedy to a whole new level.

Anonymous said...

Watching the question period in the Ledg today, I get the idea that SG Les is trying to talk himself out of things he and Coleman said. I get the impression he would hope it all went away. The oppostion has proof that the prision guard had come forward a couple of years ago but the powers that be, decided not to interview him. Seems the guy who watches cops was asked to chair the committe and he woiuld't take up the position