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B.C. Canada’s police-death capital, report says

December 2, 2010

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People are dying at a higher rate in jail and police-related incidents in British Columbia than in any other jurisdiction in the country, according to a new study written by SFU criminologist David MacAlister for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

“Our research shows that one person died every three weeks in B.C. in jail or as a result of police action between 1992 and 2007,” says MacAlister, an associate professor of criminology and director of SFU’s Institute for Studies in Criminal Justice Policy.

MacAlister’s report indicates B.C. recorded 267 jail- and police-related deaths over the 15-year period, compared to 316 in Ontario according to new numbers the Ontario coroner’s office released after the report was published.

“Taken together, these data reveal a death rate of one per 16,970 B.C. residents compared to one per 41,806 Ontario residents, using 2009 Stats Canada population statistics of 4,531,000 for B.C. and 13,210,700 for Ontario,” says MacAlister.

“While Ontario has a higher absolute number of deaths, the lower population in B.C. results in a death rate that is 2 1/2 times higher than that for Ontario.”

B.C. also has higher death numbers than New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and the Yukon, the only other regions for which statistics were obtainable.

Nevertheless, says MacAlister, “I think one person meeting their demise every three weeks in the province through police involvement is cause for concern, independent of any interprovincial comparisons.

“With 267 deaths in 15 years, we need to make sure that investigations are done properly to emphasize accountability and prevention.”

The provincial government promised, following the Dziekanski taser inquiry, to establish a civilian investigative agency to investigate all cases of death or serious harm caused by police.

Vancouver police department Chief Constable Jim Chu recently suggested the new civilian agency should investigate all complaints against police, an idea both MacAlister and the BCCLA support.

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