Most people in Canada had never heard of the village of Slocan until the day it made national headlines in 2014.
Television news dramatized an RCMP lock-down of the town with helicopter, armoured vehicle, dogs, camouflaged and plainclothes officers, a school closure, and an order preventing residents from entering the town by vehicle.
The story involved a manhunt in the forest, a death at the hands of a police officer, a declaration by the victim’s family that he had been “executed,” contradictory medical evidence as to the cause of death, questions about the province’s process for investigation police-caused deaths, and a stretch of seven years between incident and inquest.
In September, this all culminated in a 10-day coroner’s inquest into the death of Peter de Groot, held in a Nelson courtroom.
The RCMP had alleged that de Groot fired a shot at them on Oct. 9, 2014, near Slocan after the police responded to an argument between de Groot and another person.
De Groot then fled into the bush, armed with a rifle, and three days later was shot and killed by an RCMP officer after de Groot allegedly drew his firearm when the police found him in a remote cabin.
After an investigation by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) that took three years, the police officer who shot de Groot was cleared of any wrongdoing.
The job of a coroner’s jury is not to find fault but to make recommendations about how similar circumstances should be handled in the future.
An inquest is not a trial or an adversarial procedure, but there are some similarities in the courtroom setup.
De Groot’s family and the RCMP were each represented by lawyers. A lawyer for the coroner co-ordinated the evidence from medical and legal experts as well as Slocan residents. A jury heard the proceedings and eventually came back, not with a verdict, but a list of recommendations.
The jury recommended that RCMP should have its officers wear body cameras, should upgrade its first-aid equipment and training, and upgrade the communications equipment it uses in remote areas. (The force has, in the past year, begun introducing the use of body cameras.)
The jury also made recommendations about improvements in mental health support, crisis intervention training, and incident management training for officers.
The jury also wondered why it took seven years to get an inquest, and made a recommendation about that.
In 2016, the de Groot family launched a lawsuit against the RCMP seeking damages for his death. The legal action has been held in abeyance pending the inquest.
The family’s lawyer told the Nelson Star in October that he did not know yet whether it will go ahead.