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Advocates, family demand coroner's inquest into homeless aboriginal man's death

* Story changed at 11:47pm, Monday, August 24, 2009

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs is supporting the family of a deceased First Nations man in requesting a coronor’s inquest into his death, which the UBCIC says was the result of “systemic racism.”

“The UBCIC is not going to step down or step away from these tragic circumstances. We’re absolutely outraged that yet another aboriginal man has died as a direct consequence of the failure an in sensitivities of the emergency services,” said UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip today at a press conference.

Phillip said the disturbing circumstances surrounding Curtis Brick’s death-- who was allegedly taunted with racist remarks by emergency officials, and not treated immediately despite the fact he had lay unconscious and in convulsions for six to eight hours in the heat-- is not an isolated incident, citing incidents such as the death of Fank Paul, a Vancouver aboriginal man who was left in an alley by police to die of hypothermia.

The UBCIC and other advocacy organizations such as Lu’ma Native Housing Society, the Canadian Aboriginal Aids Network, the United Native Nations, and the BC Civil Liberties Association, have requested a full and immediate coroner’s inquest into the incident, they announced today.

According to David Eby, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, who also attended the press conference, under the Coroner's Act, a coroner’s inquest is a public hearing with 5 jurors drawn from the community that hear testimonies sworn under oath from witnesses of the incident. All documentation is available to the public.

A step below a public inquiry, a coroner’s inquest does not find fault, but it answers any questions the community has, and also makes recommendations to prevent such an incident from reoccurring.

“The main point is the concern in the community that this man was treated differently than other people would be treated because he was a homeless aboriginal man,” said Eby, referring to the alleged racist remarks, slow response, lack of lights or sirens being used by the ambulance, and “missing hour” between when Brick was taken away by emergency officials, and when he arrived at the hospital.

“When these allegations are made about differential treatment, we feel that it’s entirely appropriate for the government to respond and do a proper investigation to re-assure the community or to investigate whatever the systemic issues are that led to this differential treatment and to fix that so that it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Eby also said he was disappointed in the slow response from the coroner regarding the incident, who said they were looking into the incident, which happened over three weeks ago, and haven’t reached a decision on whether to pursue an investigation.

“The important issue in my mind is that they’re unwilling to set a date about when they’re going to make a decision about the say that, ‘trust us, we haven’t decided yet, we’re doing the investigation, and don’t call us we’ll call you,’ is not an appropriate response in this kind of situation,” said Eby.

“The coroner has the discretion to call for an inquest immediately, and that is what we’re calling on them to do.”

Grand Chief Philip has met with city councillors Andrea Reimer and Kerry Jang to discuss the issue. Mayor Gregor Robertson, currently on holidays, had also been made aware of the situation.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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