MEMBERTOU, N.S. – Canada’s legal system fails to attach enough value to the loss of an Indigenous woman’s life, according to an advocate for the family of a Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq woman who died after being held in a police cell in 2009.Cheryl Maloney testified Tuesday that legal changes need to be made to help families sue for punitive damages in cases of wrongful death like that of Victoria Rose Paul of Indian Brook First Nation.“We are worth less, over and over again, because of government’s laws, policies and inactions,” she said during testimony before the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Women and Girls in Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton.An independent report concluded five years ago that police did not properly monitor the 44-year-old woman’s health after she was arrested Aug. 28, 2009, outside a Truro bar for public drunkenness and was taken the following day to a Halifax hospital, where she died on Sept. 5, 2009.The report said she was incoherent and left lying on the cement floor of the lockup in her own urine.Maloney told commissioner Michele Audette that the province’s Fatal Injuries Act should be reformed to allow higher damages to be awarded to families of Aboriginal women.She argued that colonialism played a role in impoverishing many Mi’kmaq families, and this results in lower legal settlements when courts determine damages based on lost earnings.The long-time advocate also said that existing legal settlements often do not attach sufficient value of the loss of women to grandmothers and other elders who helped to nurture them.The 2012 report on Paul’s death by police complaints commissioner Nadine Cooper Mont said she wasn’t treated with respect, and medical attention was slow.Paul and her son Deveron were locked up at 3:30 on the morning of her arrest, says the report.It says a commissionaire found Paul on the floor crying and asked her if she was all right. She said “No.”Video showed Paul’s pants and underwear had come down, but it took several hours for a female officer to help her get them back up.Paul was on the floor instead of in her bunk so she wouldn’t roll off and hurt herself, but wasn’t given a blanket or mattress. By the time the next commissionaire came on duty at 8:45 a.m. that day, it was noted she had urinated in her pants and was lying in it.The report says the commissionaire became more concerned about her condition through the morning, but couldn’t convince the sergeants that she needed medical help.It also cited the medical examiner as saying the stroke likely happened while Paul was in custody and that it was “unsurvivable,” regardless of how quickly medical help was provided.Deveron Paul told the inquiry he still struggles to cope with the loss of his mother.“All I ever wanted was just the answers. … It still hurts me,” he said.Truro Police Chief Dave MacNeil said in an email that his force “acted on and put into effect” all the report’s recommendations pertaining to the service.“We take the safety and security of all people in our lock up seriously, and strive to treat people with dignity and respect,” he wrote.Brian Hebert, the lawyer for Deveron and Paul’s grandson Dominic Paul, said a lawsuit was started in 2014 against the Town of Truro, the Truro police, the sergeant in charge of the lock-up at the time, and the Commissionaires of Nova Scotia.He said in an email that punitive damages could allow courts to go beyond compensation and “to punish the wrongdoer where the wrongdoer’s conduct is particularly egregious, for example where it was motivated by racism.”Similar statutes in New Brunswick and other provinces explicitly state that families can be awarded punitive damages, but Nova Scotia legislation is silent on the matter and courts have interpreted that to mean it is not applicable, he said.The inquiry is expected to produce an interim report for the federal government on Wednesday, but it is also asking for an extension to hear from the growing number of families registering to tell the stories of murdered and missing women and girls.Over 900 people have now registered to speak. This week, the number of people who registered to speak in Membertou has grown from 40 to over 60.Maloney told the commission she’s relying on it to produce a strong report.“I want the inquiry to work. I want you to do a good job,” she said during her testimony.Commissioner Michele Audette said that the inquiry will produce a report with recommendations for all provinces and territories, as well as the federal government.“It will force governments, society and us to do things differently. This is the expectation everywhere I go,” she said.
A program that places police officers in some southern Ontario high schools made students feel safer and helped them build positive relationships with law enforcement, a study released Wednesday concluded.But some anti-racism activists argued the study that examined the program in Peel Region, west of Toronto, failed to properly take into account the effect police presence in schools has on students from racialized backgrounds and other vulnerable minority groups.After conducting nearly 1,300 surveys of students and interviewing school administrators and police, researchers from Carleton University said high schools in Peel — a region made up of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon — should continue the School Resource Officer program, which has been operating in the area for over 20 years.“Every single one of these different groups (said) students feel safer at school,” said Carleton business professor Linda Duxbury, one of the study’s lead researchers. “The goal of the Peel program is to make people feel safer in schools so they can learn more … every single source of data said it (met that goal).”The Toronto District School Board ended a similar program of its own in November after a report by board staff found black students and other minority groups felt harassed, targeted and unsafe when police were in their schools.The Toronto report focused primarily on the concerns of those vulnerable students, something the Peel study failed to do, said Andrea Vasquez Jimenez, co-chair of the Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network.“If we are looking at these detrimental issues within our schools and beyond, we really have to … look at who it negatively impacts and put more importance on that,” she said.Duxbury said that because the Peel student surveys were anonymous, researchers were not able to track the race or culture of respondents.Eight students who were interviewed in person for the report all came from racialized backgrounds, she noted. Researchers surveyed students from three public high schools and two Catholic high schools, which were selected specifically because their populations represented a wide variety of racial, cultural and income-related backgrounds, she added.“One dominant finding is that every single group of students benefited and felt safer over time,” Duxbury said.The Peel study was specifically designed to measure the financial value of the program that placed police in schools, not the views of different racial groups, Duxbury said.Unlike other such programs in Canada, Peel’s assigns an officer to every high school in the region. With an annual cost of $9 million to Peel police, the program is one of the most expensive of its kind, Duxbury said.“There’s a lot of discussion on the cost of policing, the economics of policing,” Duxbury said. “People were very, very concerned, (saying), ‘Look at how much police are costing, how can we get value for money?’”The study tried to calculate the program’s “social return on investment” — a means of placing an approximate dollar value on non-financial, even intangible results.For example, having officers in schools decreases the number of calls Peel police have to respond to, leading to a savings in the police budget, the study found.Officers who build a relationship with a student may be more likely to divert that student towards rehabilitation programs outside the justice system if the student gets in trouble, the study also found. This keeps those kids in school and out of jail — outcomes researchers attached approximate dollar values to.Overall, the study found, Peel police got $11.13 of value for every $1 they spent on the program.The Peel District School Board said there was “tremendous value” in the program.“Through a partnership that is adaptive, responsive and focused on student success and well-being, we look forward to working together with police to support all of our students so that every child and teen feels safe, respected and included,” the board’s director of education, Peter Joshua, said in a statement.Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Sandy Hudson said the safety and well-being of racialized students in particular should have been the focus of the report.“This (program) is essentially police officers being able to extract information from minors without their parents being present,” Hudson said. “That, to me, should concern all parents and concern all educators who are trying to keep their students safe.”Duxbury said the study found no evidence that random checks, or carding, was occurring in Peel high schools. Most often, students approach school resource officers with a problem or a question, as opposed to officers seeking out students, she said.