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Frank Joseph Paul

Coon Come hails probe of native freezing death

Matthew Coon Come

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says a review by the B.C. police complaints commissioner into the 1998 case of a drunk aboriginal man who was dragged out of a Vancouver police station only to die hours later sends a powerful signal.

"I think what we need is signals, like the offices of the B.C. Police Complaints Commissioner ... independent public inquiries that can send a message to the victims and to the families that we're going to reexamine if we feel that there's negligence here," Matthew Coon Come (right) told CTV's Canada AM on Wednesday.

New Brunswick Mi'kmaq Frank Joseph Paul died early the morning of December 6, 1998 from hypothermia after being released from police custody into near-freezing temperatures.

Two police officers received minor suspensions, of two days each over the incident, but no public hearing or inquiry was held.

On Tuesday B.C. police complaints commissioner Dirk Ryneveld reopened the file and released a copy of a police videotape. The tape depicts a key incident from Paul's last day, when he was taken twice to the Vancouver drunk tank.

Police had said that when they released Paul, he was able to take care of himself.

The police surveillance video appears to contradict that statement, showing a man who appears to be drunk and passed out. The wet trail his body leaves while being dragged confirms he was soaking wet.

He was left in an alley on that cold winter night, and died a few hours later from exposure.

"The videotape speaks for itself," Ryneveld said. "I won't comment on it. Those who see it can form their own opinion."

Speaking on Canada AM, Coon Come said Paul's family and the native community as a whole deserves some answers for that and other similar incidents.

"I would like to say that it's an isolated incident, but it's not," he said. "We've also had stories of the young people that were dropped off by the police in Saskatoon, we saw an incident in Alberta -- the shooting of a mother and the young child that witnessed it -- and a Manitoba inquiry told the story of the unequal treatment of aboriginal peoples when it comes to the police."

Meanwhile, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations is investigating allegations by a native man that he was assaulted by two police officers during his arrest.

George Bird, 30, says he was punched, kicked, stepped on and had his shoulder dislocated by one or two police officers who arrested him following a disturbance complaint.

He also complained of nerve damage to a hand from being handcuffed too tightly.

Bird, who is serving a six-month jail term for assault was charged with resisting arrest, an allegation he denies.

Bird's complaint is the latest of several over the treatment of aboriginals by Saskatchewan police officers.

In February, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Eric Cline called a judicial inquiry into the 1990 freezing death of 17-year-old Neil Stonechild, who was last seen alive in police custody. He was later found in a field, dead of hypothermia and wearing just one shoe.

Starlight Tour

In 2000, an RCMP task force looked into the deaths of two other Saskatchewan aboriginals found frozen to death, but concluded no charges should be laid in either case. The review resulted in charges against two veteran Saskatoon police officers, Ken Munson and Dan Hatchen, for abandoning another aboriginal man, Darrell Night, on the outskirts in freezing temperatures.

Saskatchewan justice officials have also asked RCMP to conduct a criminal investigation into the abandonment of an aboriginal woman in 1976.