British Columbia has the highest rate of in-custody deaths in the country, according to a study released yesterday by a civil rights watchdog.
Our rate is also twice that of Ontario’s, despite that province having three times the population, according to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
David MacAlistar, author of the report, said little can be done with those dying of natural or unknown causes, but many of the deaths are preventable.
“It’s fairly safe to say that probably the biggest group is individuals who are dying from alcohol or (drug) overdose in the cell,” said MacAlistar.
“I’d like to see us move to some alternatives to incarceration (for intoxicated individuals) like a sobering-up facility.
“We should think seriously about the conditions under which people are detained. Are prison cells adequate? Have we given police resources to deal with problem cases? Made sure there’s adequate health screening?”
He added it’s important to have an independent, civilian agency investigating these deaths, and that police need to re-think use of force and the conditions under which they use their firearms.
Ian Indridson with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said a civilian-based investigative office is in development, as is the installation of audio and video recording equipment in police buildings.
“We take these matters very seriously and that’s why we always require RCMP and municipal police departments in B.C. to ensure that their policies and procedures are appropriate,” he said.