The Frank Paul Inquiry commenced today with opening statements by counsel for the participants. The opening statement of Mr. Ward, counsel for the United Native Nations Society, is reproduced below:


Mr. Commissioner, Mr. Eby and I are grateful for, and deeply honoured to have the opportunity to represent the interests of the United Native Nations Society at this Commission of Inquiry. For many years, the UNNS, along with other aboriginal groups and concerned individuals, urged the BC government to hold a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Frank Joseph Paul.

The United Native Nations Society represents 40,500 members across British Columbia and is the province’s main, and often only, advocate for off-reserve aboriginal people. Frank Paul’s home reserve was in New Brunswick, but his home was in the streets of Vancouver. Advocates for UNNS worked on Frank Paul’s behalf while he was still alive and living near the IGA store at Maple and Broadway in Kitsilano. Their advocacy on behalf of Frank Paul did not end at the time of his death, and it will not end until he and his family have had a full and fair hearing of the facts, and any parties responsible for his death are held accountable by our justice system.

Frank Paul is one of many off-reserve aboriginal people assisted by UNNS on what would generously be described as a shoestring budget. The absence of aboriginal-run shelters, the shortage of aboriginal housing, and the lack of aboriginal-run treatment and detoxification is a reality that is felt by the UNNS and its constituency every day. This shortage of resources for this population, widely recognized as the most poor, and most marginalized in our society, must be addressed. For these reasons, among many others, the following off-reserve aboriginal support organizations have endorsed the UNNS’s attendance at this hearing, and its efforts to bring meaning and justice to the life and death of Frank Paul:
• The Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee;
• The Aboriginal Mother Centre;
• The Circle of Eagles Lodge;
• Healing our Spirit;
• Helping Spirit Lodge;
• The Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Alliance Society;
• Lu’ma Native Housing;
• The Pacific Association of First Nations Women;
• The Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society;
• The Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Program;
• Vancouver Native Health Society; and
• The Vancouver Native Housing Society.


Mr. Commissioner, we know that Frank Joseph Paul, age 47, an off-reserve aboriginal person of no fixed address, died some time after 9:00 p.m. on December 5, 1998. His lifeless body was found in an alley the next morning by someone searching for a missing cat.

Now, nearly nine years after Mr. Paul died, this Commission of Inquiry has finally been convened to probe the circumstances of Mr. Paul’s death and to consider the responsiveness of various agencies to them. This Commission will also review the social and health services available to the disadvantaged and consider making recommendations for improvement to the social safety net that is supposed to catch people like Mr. Paul. For the UNNS and others, this is an historic opportunity.

The UNNS is committed to assisting this Commission with its important tasks. It has at least two good reasons for doing so. First, given that a human being died in suspicious circumstances, Frank Paul, his family and the public deserve nothing less than a thorough investigation by an impartial body, which they haven’t yet had. There was no coroner’s inquest, although one is mandatory whenever a person dies while detained by or in the custody of a peace officer. There was no public hearing conducted by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and there was no civil or criminal trial. This is the only chance to get the facts. Second, for the UNNS and the people it represents, the name ‘Frank Paul’ has come to symbolize everything that is wrong with the institutions and systems that have been imposed by others on the indigenous population of this province.

Has there been systemic and institutional racism in the past? Of course there has. Does it continue today? Of course it does. One would have to be blind not to see it. The justice system is particularly prone to systemic racism.

To be of aboriginal heritage in British Columbia, whether on or off-reserve, is to be acutely aware of a fundamentally unjust reality; an aboriginal person who looks sideways at a police officer could be jailed, beaten or worse, while police officers can abuse or even cause the death of aboriginals with absolute impunity.

As Grand Chief Stewart Philip alluded to in his remarks, the roll call of aboriginal persons who have died in B.C. in suspicious circumstances involving the police in the last few decades is long. The list includes Fred Quilt, Clarence George Jack, Rocky Allan Pearson, Joanne Leah Totus, Harold Joseph Prince, Sylvester Thomas Plasway, Darrel Steve Wilson, Christopher Stephen Bell, Kevin Jason Skin, Randy Monk, Robert Satiacum, Victor Michael Vincent George, Darrell Horace Yeltatzie, Frank George Bell, Russell John Abraham, Martin Russell Mather, Larry Horace Jack, Benjamin Neil Dixon, James Edward Gray, Adeline Wilson, Stanley George Paul, Eddie Munro Basil, Donald Joseph Rossetti, Eliza Wokely, Paul Alphonse, Anthany James Dawson, Richard William Allen, Mark Ned Francis, Peter Benoit Prince, George David Patterson, Darrell Paquette, Lorraine Moon, Merle Albert Nicholas, Clayton Alvin Willey, Adrienne Claudette Bos, Gerald Chenery and Kyle Tait.

No police officer has ever been charged, let alone convicted, in any of these cases. It’s not hard too see why. In British Columbia, we still allow the police to investigate themselves when someone dies at their hands. They work hand in hand with Crown Counsel and the Coroners Service on these cases. It’s no wonder that the decisions taken by these agencies appear to many to be flawed. To aboriginal people in B.C., the police have always seemed to be above the law, untouchable. For the UNNS, indeed, for all right-thinking people, that perception must change.

Frank Paul met an untimely end in egregious circumstances. One can only imagine what it must have been like for him on that late December night nearly nine years ago, to lie there alone in that alley, desperately sick, wet, freezing cold, unable to move and completely helpless, as a police vehicle – a police vehicle, operated by someone supposedly there to serve and protect all of us from harm – starts up and drives away, its tail lights receding into the winter darkness.

Mr. Commissioner, your counsel has been heard to say that he intends to “shine a light” on the circumstances of Frank Paul’s death and the various investigations into it. As counsel for UNNS, we plan to be there every step of the way to assist you and your counsel by ensuring that the light does not falter, that its beam remains intense and that it its piercing glare is directed into even the darkest of nooks and crannies. In short, we want to ensure that nothing and no one involved in this tragic case escapes your careful scrutiny and ultimately, if warranted, society’s accountability.