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Rights + Justice

No Punishment for RCMP Officer Who Pleaded Guilty to Assault

Why Const. Paul Ste-Marie will return to work after two high-profile incidents.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 9 Apr 2024The Tyee

Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on X @amandajfollett.

An RCMP officer who, until recently, faced two criminal charges for alleged violence while on the job in Prince George will return to work after receiving an absolute discharge, meaning there will be no sentence or any criminal record, in a Vancouver courtroom yesterday morning.

The discharge came during a brief court appearance where Const. Paul Ste-Marie pleaded guilty to assaulting Dilmeet Singh Chahal, who was restrained in the back of a police car in August 2022.

This follows Friday’s news that manslaughter charges against Ste-Marie and another officer, Const. Jean Francois Monette, were stayed in the 2017 death of Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan man Dale Culver. Charges that are stayed are dropped if the Crown does not resume prosecution within a year.

Yesterday, B.C. provincial court judge Paul Dohm accepted a joint submission on the assault charge from the Crown and defence lawyers, noting that Ste-Marie had entered an early guilty plea, made a full confession and shown remorse. A dangerous high-speed chase leading up to Chahal’s assault was also considered a mitigating factor.

Dohm, who also presided over Friday’s appearance where Ste-Marie’s previous charge was stayed, described the manslaughter charge as a “heavy weight” over Ste-Marie for the last seven years.

“I wish you all the best in your career,” the judge told Ste-Marie.

Culver’s family has repeatedly expressed frustration with delays and what they describe as a “horrendous” and “protectionist” justice system.

"To call our system a justice system is not true," Culver’s daughter, Lily Speed-Namox, said outside the Prince George courthouse Friday.

While Ste-Marie initially remained on active duty following Culver’s death, he was put on administrative duties last August after he was charged with assaulting Chahal. An RCMP spokesperson said at the time that Ste-Marie would undergo a code of conduct review.

Defence lawyer Ravi Hira said Monday that the review determined Ste-Marie had “support from many officers” within the RCMP and had received a raft of “attaboys,” or accolades, for exemplary service.

Hira called the 2022 assault an “isolated incident” and said Ste-Marie’s conduct up until August 2022 was “by any objective standard clearly above average.”

Hira added that Ste-Marie, who has since relocated to Vancouver, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“That is what seven years of deployment in Prince George does to officers,” Hira said. “It has the highest crime statistics in Canada.”

The court heard that on Aug. 21, 2022, Prince George RCMP received a complaint of a Jeep driving dangerously. The vehicle was believed to be associated with a homicide in the Lower Mainland the previous week, and its owner, Chahal, was listed as potentially armed and dangerous, Crown prosecutor Cory Lo said.

When the vehicle was reported the following day, Ste-Marie located it and “assessed that this was a high-risk situation,” Lo said. He increased that risk assessment after the Jeep jumped a curb and struck the police vehicle Ste-Marie was driving, causing the officer to hit his head on the steering wheel, Lo added.

After police boxed in the Jeep, Chahal fled the area but was later arrested, handcuffed and placed in a police vehicle. Ste-Marie was tasked with reading Chahal his Charter rights, the court heard.

“Mr. Chahal looked at Const. Ste-Marie but did not immediately reply,” Lo said, citing a video of the exchange that showed Chahal was physically confined and appeared to be out of breath.

“Const. Ste-Marie repeated himself, ‘Do you understand?’ Mr. Chahal, who was still breathing heavily, said ‘yes’ in a very quiet voice,” he said. “Const. Ste-Marie very quickly, without any windup, made a fist with his right hand and backhand punched Mr. Chahal on the chin once.”

Chahal then responded “yes” several times in a louder voice, Lo said, and Ste-Marie closed the vehicle door shortly after. Among the key aggravating factors listed by the Crown were that Chahal was in police custody and posed no threat when he was assaulted by Ste-Marie.

“He was under complete control of the police, physically restrained and could not defend himself,” Lo said. “Mr. Chahal was vulnerable at that point and Const. Ste-Marie occupied a position of trust and authority.”

Lo said the level of force used was “relatively minor” but “violated several fundamental principles of the justice system.”

“Public confidence in the police as an institution is shaken every time a police officer is seen using violence without justification,” Lo said.

Three women sit on a couch, holding a photo of their lost loved one, Dale Culver.
From left, Virginia Pierre, Debbie Pierre and Lily Speed-Namox hold a photo of their loved one, Dale Culver, who died during an altercation with police in July 2017. Photo via BC Assembly of First Nations.

Hira said that Ste-Marie, who turns 28 next month, grew up on a First Nations reserve near Quebec City, where he is a member of the community. He joined the Prince George RCMP in 2016. Shortly after, Ste-Marie was involved in the arrest of Dale Culver on July 18, 2017.

The Independent Investigations Office of BC, which investigates police incidents causing death or serious harm, found that RCMP had responded to a call on the night Culver died of a man “casing” parked vehicles in downtown Prince George.

Officers alleged that Culver attempted to flee by bike. He was chased down and pepper-sprayed while being taken into custody and collapsed and died shortly after, according to the IIO’s report.

Culver’s family has accused the RCMP of racially profiling him, saying he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Ste-Marie and Monette were charged in February 2023 with his death. They pleaded not guilty in June.

According to a statement issued Friday by the BC Prosecution Service, the Crown determined there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction after it asked an independent pathologist to review Culver’s cause of death.

“Based on the evidence available, the BCPS is not able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the two officers committed a criminal offence in relation to the arrest of Mr. Culver,” according to the BCPS statement.

Three additional RCMP officers face charges of attempting to obstruct justice following Culver’s death, related to alleged deletion of video evidence. Const. Arthur Dalman, Const. Alex MacDonald and Sgt. Jon Eusebio Cruz pleaded not guilty last August and are scheduled to stand trial in June.

While the Crown had originally taken a position that Ste-Marie receive a discharge in the Chahal case on the condition he attend counselling, Lo said the officer had “proactively fulfilled these conditions.” As a result, he said, Crown would agree to an absolute discharge.

When asked Monday by Judge Dohm if he wanted to say anything, Ste-Marie said he was “just terribly sorry.”  [Tyee]

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