With the Frank Paul Inquiry set to begin on November 13, the United Native Nations held a public forum yesterday to address issues arising from aboriginal deaths in police custody. The speakers included Grand Chief Stewart Philip (by video), lawyer Kelly MacDonald, pathologist Dr. John Butt, lawyer Cameron Ward, journalist Leonard Cler-Cunningham and Noel Tait, mother of sixteen year old Kyle Tait, who was shot and killed by police more than two years ago.

The outrage of the aboriginal community was palpable. Aboriginal deaths in police custody have routinely been whitewashed and covered up by the authorities, speakers suggested. The Frank Paul Inquiry may finally provide the community with an opportunity to expose how this happens.

Mr. Ward offered the following solutions to address issues of systemic bias and delay:

1) Have a civilian investigative team investigate every case of serious injury or death arising from the actions of police officers.

2) Since the vast majority of coroner’s inquests involve deaths in police custody, and most of those are deaths in RCMP custody, end the practice of appointing RCMP officers to the position of Chief Coroner.

3) Ensure that every coroner’s inquest is held no later than six months after the death.

Although these suggestions will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears, eventually this province will have to emerge from the dark ages if there is to be any meaningful chance for reconciliation with the aboriginal community.