Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Advocate Calls for Increased Punitive Damages in Deaths of Indigenous Women

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Advocate Calls for Increased Punitive Damages in Deaths of Indigenous Women

Article excerpt

Inquiry hears of jailed Mi'kmaq woman's death

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MEMBERTOU, N.S. - Canada's legal system fails to attach enough value to the loss of an Indigenous woman's life, according to an advocate for the family of a Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq woman who died after being held in a police cell in 2009.

Cheryl Maloney testified Tuesday that legal changes need to be made to help families sue for punitive damages in cases of wrongful death like that of Victoria Rose Paul of Indian Brook First Nation.

"We are worth less, over and over again, because of government's laws, policies and inactions," she said during testimony before the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Women and Girls in Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton.

An independent report concluded five years ago that police did not properly monitor the 44-year-old woman's health after she was arrested Aug. 28, 2009, outside a Truro bar for public drunkenness and was taken the following day to a Halifax hospital, where she died on Sept. 5, 2009.

The report said she was incoherent and left lying on the cement floor of the lockup in her own urine.

Maloney told commissioner Michele Audette that the province's Fatal Injuries Act should be reformed to allow higher damages to be awarded to families of Aboriginal women.

She argued that colonialism played a role in impoverishing many Mi'kmaq families, and this results in lower legal settlements when courts determine damages based on lost earnings.

The long-time advocate also said that existing legal settlements often do not attach sufficient value of the loss of women to grandmothers and other elders who helped to nurture them.

The 2012 report on Paul's death by police complaints commissioner Nadine Cooper Mont said she wasn't treated with respect, and medical attention was slow.

Paul and her son Deveron were locked up at 3:30 on the morning of her arrest, says the report.

It says a commissionaire found Paul on the floor crying and asked her if she was all right. She said "No."

Video showed Paul's pants and underwear had come down, but it took several hours for a female officer to help her get them back up.

Paul was on the floor instead of in her bunk so she wouldn't roll off and hurt herself, but wasn't given a blanket or mattress. By the time the next commissionaire came on duty at 8:45 a.m. that day, it was noted she had urinated in her pants and was lying in it. …

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