There has been no inquest yet into the death of Peter de Groot at the hands of the RCMP near Slocan in 2014.
The investigation of the RCMP’s actions by the Independent Investigations Office took three-and-a-half years, and the BC Coroners Service has been working on scheduling an inquest for three years.
The pandemic has slowed things down even further.
De Groot, 45, allegedly fired a shot at police on Oct. 9, 2014, when officers responded to an argument between de Groot and another person.
De Groot then fled into the bush, and three days after the initial encounter was shot and killed by an officer after de Groot allegedly drew his firearm while hiding in a remote cabin. The police were not charged with any wrongdoing.
The BC Coroner service was considering having the inquest in Burnaby in December, with witnesses by video, says Don Sorochan, the de Groot family’s lawyer.
A number of factors prevented this, and Sorochan said it would not have been ideal in any event because public access to the room was extremely limited because of COVID-19.
“There would not have been room for all of the members of the family [many of whom live in Ontario] who have expressed a desire to attend let alone the media and other members of the public. It was not reasonable for the family to have to drive across Canada and then be ushered into a room to watch the proceedings by television [even if health rules allow inter-provincial travel].”
Sorochan said inquests are traditionally held in or near the community of the deceased with a jury of members of that community, and he hopes that can happen in this case.
He thinks it would be acceptable for expert medical witnesses to give their evidence by video.
“On the other hand,” he said, “I believe that the evidence of the police officers involved (in both the initial confrontation and Peter’s death) involves matters of credibility that should be heard in person.”
Parties to the inquest, which will each have lawyers representing them, are the RCMP, the de Groot family, and the now-former RCMP officer who shot de Groot.
That officer, Brian Burke, launched a lawsuit against the Independent Investigation Office alleging that its delays had led to his serious health problems including PTSD. That action was dismissed by the B.C. Supreme Court in November 2018.
Under the Coroners Act, inquests are mandatory for any deaths that occur while a person was detained by or in the custody of a police officer.
The job of a coroner’s jury is to make recommendations with the aim of preventing future loss of life in similar circumstances. They determine the facts relating to a death, but do not assign guilt or blame.
But it is the facts that members Peter de Groot’s family are looking for.
They have many questions about the details of the shooting, including what each officer did and when, and whether or not de Groot was shot in the back. They want clarity on the several pathology reports that were produced following the death.
Responding to an inquiry from the Nelson Star, the BC Coroners Service said in an email that there is no scheduled date for the inquest.
“We are currently scheduling inquests that we previously postponed due to [COVID-19 closures],” the email reads. “Inquests are typically held close to the communities in which the incident occurred, so we also factor in travel and weather during our planning. In addition, we must ensure that inquests occur in locations that can meet all required COVID-19 related safety precautions.”