Stereotyping & Deaths of Indigenous women in Police Custody (Tanya Day & Debra Chrisjohn)

Here is a pdf of the decision in R v Doering, in which Justice Pomerance convicts a police officer of (inter alia) criminal negligence causing the death of Debra Chrisjohn, a woman “of indigenous heritage” who died in London, Ontario, while in police custody. Ms. Chrisjohn died September 7 2016, of a heart attack.

Reading the media/social media reports of what happened to Ms. Chrisjohn (here; here) put me in mind of media reports about the Inquest into the death of Tanya Day, a Yorta Yorta woman who died in Castlemaine Police Station nr Melbourne December 22 2017. For a review see here. The Inquest took place this past August – I read coverage in the Guardian by Calla Wahlquist @callapilla in the Guardian (eg, this).

The decision of Justice Pomerance is highly critical of the police response. She also, in one of the last paragraphs, notes:

[129] Finally, Ms. Chrisjohn was of indigenous heritage. There is no suggestion that this played any role in decisions made by the police in this case. Nonetheless, it has been observed that indigenous women and girls are particularly vulnerable to stereotyping. This includes stereotypes relating to alcohol and drug abuse. (see the Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls (Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls).. On this point, see also R. v. Barton, 2019 SCC 33.

Thanks to Kate Kehoe (@katekehoe1) who i have followed forever but never met, for reaching out and sending the judgment (which isn’t on CANLII yet).

As many of you know, there are so many scholars who have recognized the connections between police relations with Indigenous peoples in different settler-colonial states. The deaths of Ms. Chrisjohn, and Ms. Day, do illustrate that connection, the hard work that families, advocates and communities are doing to speak out, to mourn, bring these things to mainstream attention, to use law to demand accountability. So just…thinking transnationally.

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