Those who seek answers regarding the sudden death of a young Hesquiaht mother after a night in police custody will have to wait beyond this summer.
A coroner’s inquest into the death of Jocelyn George that was scheduled to begin July 6 at the Port Alberni Courthouse has been postponed due to provincial measures to control the spread of COVID-19. British Columbia’s active coronavirus cases have declined to under 300 after a peak of 750 on April 26, but preventative measures remain in place across the province, including prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people.
“The BC Coroners Service will arrange to reschedule the inquest once all COVID-19 public health measures are no longer required,” reads a statement from the BC Coroner’s Service issued today.
George died on June 24, 2016 in a Victoria hospital when she suffered a cardiac arrest due to drug toxicity levels. She was airlifted to Victoria after being detained overnight by RCMP in Port Alberni. The 18 year old was arrested the day before for public intoxication, then released, but was taken back into custody after a relative concerned for her safety contacted police.
These details were released in early 2018 by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., a police oversight agency. The IIO found no grounds to bring charges against police who held George overnight, but concerns of neglect that led to her death remain with family members and others.
“The details outlined in this report underscore an urgent need for the RCMP to re-evaluate their internal policies regarding the monitoring of persons in custody who are deemed intoxicated,” stated the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in a media release issued in response to the Independent Investigations Office report. “This is not the first Nuu-chah-nulth or Indigenous person to die in the custody of the RCMP. This report has not only failed to bring closure to the family of Jocelyn George who have been left with unanswered questions but has highlighted a reoccurring issue present in many Indigenous communities across Canada – the unfair and unbalanced treatment of our people by police.”
Coroner’s inquests are mandatory following the death of someone while in police custody. When it is eventually held, the inquest will be heard by a coroner and a five-to-seven-member jury, who would hear from witnesses to determine the facts that led up to George’s death. A coroner’s inquest can make recommendations to prevent future tragedies under similar circumstances. The process produces a verdict with a classification of the death, but does not determine who is at fault for the passing.
While some of B.C.’s court operations resumed May 13, any jury selection for trials is cancelled until Sept. 7.