Outrage over police response as First Nations marchers hit by truck

‘The RCMP are totally downplaying what actually happened,’ said a witness. ‘It was a hit and run. He fled the scene’

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Witnesses were expressing outrage Sunday over police response to an incident the day before in Mission, B.C., when the driver of a pickup truck drove into a group marching to raise awareness of the treatment of First Nations at residential schools, injuring five.

While the RCMP said there was no indication it was a targeted attack, rather than characterizing the incident as a dangerous hit-and-run, officers declared it “an impatient driver (who) tried to get around a group of people marching on the highway,” in a media release.

“The RCMP are totally downplaying what actually happened,” said Garett Dan, of Abbotsford, B.C., who was participating in the march at the site of the St. Mary’s Residential School, where both of his parents attended.

“They shouldn’t be sugar coating anything like that. It was a hit and run. He fled the scene.”

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The pickup driver steered onto the shoulder of the road in an apparent attempt to bypass traffic, he said. One of the march organizers stopped him.

“He didn’t like it and then all of a sudden he decided to hit him with his truck,” Dan said. “He drove into him. I was looking into my rear-view mirror to keep an eye on what was going on and you could clear-as-day see he went driving towards him.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, just because you’re in a hurry doesn’t mean you get to ride the shoulder and try to drive through a crowd of people.”

The driver allegedly hit more marchers further along the road.

Chris Robertson helped run the event, the March for Recognition for Residential Schools, which was organized by the B.C. chapter of the Crazy Indians Brotherhood, a drug and alcohol support group.

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He said there were children and elders participating but none was hit.

Robertson heard that a truck had hit one of the traffic control flagmen at the back of the march and then saw the truck coming up the shoulder towards him.

Several organizers called for him to stop.

“I turned and looked back at him and at that point he stepped on the throttle and started towards us,” Robertson said.

One of his friends went under the truck and rolled out, while another went over the hood, he said. The truck’s bumper hit Robertson’s knee as it passed. The driver briefly stopped. Some water bottles were thrown at his truck, and he drove off, he said.

“Had it been any one of us (driving), we’d be in jail already. We would be charged with attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon … the book would have been thrown at us already,” Robertson said.

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If that man’s skin tone was another colour he’d be in jail

Chris Robertson

“If that man’s skin tone was another colour he’d be in jail. This is what our people talk about when we say white privilege. I hate going the racial route, because in order to get past things you need to rise up, but when stuff like this happens, this is what we’re talking about.”

Police were called about 12:30 p.m., said RCMP Const. Harrison Mohr, a media relations officer with the Mission detachment.

“It sounds like this driver became upset that his trip was going to be delayed by a few minutes and drove into oncoming traffic to try to get around the group,” Mohr said.

“When faced with oncoming traffic, he drove his vehicle into the midst of the group until the cars went by, then pulled out and passed again. In doing so, he struck several members of the March. Fortunately, none were seriously injured, and the March was able continue as planned.

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“There is no indication that this incident was targeted, or that the driver’s actions had anything specifically to do with the people marching or their cause,” the RCMP said.

No one has been arrested and it remains under investigation. Mohr called on the public to provide dashcam or cellphone video.

The first word in the headline of the RCMP’s public statement on the incident is “minor.”

The last line of the RCMP statement says: “Trying to save a few minutes of time by endangering the lives of others is simply unacceptable.”

In answer to questions from National Post, Mohr said on Sunday that while witnesses helped to identify the licence plate of the truck, officers are “still working to confirm the identity of the driver.”

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He said several witnesses were “not immediately available to meet with us,” on Saturday and officers wish to speak to more witnesses and gather evidence to support a charge recommendation.

“Our understanding is that only two of the four people who were hit actually went to hospital, and the two that did arranged for their own transportation and did not require an ambulance,” Mohr said.

Witnesses told the Post five people were injured.

By Sunday, Mohr was characterizing the motorist as a “dangerous driver” rather than an “impatient” one. He confirmed witnesses said he was “swerving into the group whenever he needed to avoid oncoming traffic.

“When our officers interview the suspect, they will certainly be interested in hearing directly from him about what his intentions were that day.”

Parts of the incident were caught on cameras at the march. Images show a blue Chevrolet pickup. An engine can be heard revving along with shouts from the crowd.

A white man with glasses and a baseball cap can be seen sticking his out of the window and turning back before driving off.

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