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Frank’s Story

Told by his son, Frank Jr.

My Father, Frank James Watts, was arrested by the police at Safeway in Prince Rupert. There were witnesses who saw the two officers roughing up my Dad by having him handcuffed and thrown into the back of the cop car so hard that the door on the other side opened up.

The two police officers then brought my Dad into the station unconscious and with his hands handcuffed behind his back. Although police policies dictate that any unconscious person brought in should be first checked by a medical professional, this did not happen.

My Dad was placed in a drunk tank and on his back, as there were guys in jail, who witnessed this. When he started to vomit, the guys in the cell called for help, and when the guard opened the door, he said that due to police policies, he cannot enter the drunk tank, unless an officer was present. So he closed the door, without even turning my Dad on his side, which could have saved his life. Absolutely no first aid treatment was done, just the door closed on my sick Father.

When the ambulance was finally called, the attending paramedics checked on the wrong person in the drunk tank.

In the coroner’s report it was noted that the City Of Prince Rupert had hired a civilian to be a guard on duty at the police station. He did not have the adequate training to do that job.

My first cousin, Leonard Watts Jr., also went to the police detachment that evening to try and take my Father home, but the police denied his request.

The day after my Dad died in police custody, I called the police department and asked what had happened. The Police Chief offered to pay for my Dad’s funeral but I said not until I found out what exactly happened to him.

In the autopsy report, it stated that my Dad died from “asphyxia as a result of obstruction in the airway by gastric fluid content”. Moreover, I believe that the excessive force used by the officers in smashing my Father’s head into the door is what made him lose consciousness in the first place. As stated in the autopsy report, my Father had “petechial hemorrhages” on the scalp, which are consistent with the head trauma he endured. Furthermore, the report details “edema fluid in the lower tracheobronchial tree” and “pulmonary edema in the lungs”, indicating excess fluid in the lungs. The resuscitation paramedics that eventually did show up at the department also corroborated this evidence of recent vomiting by noting large amounts of gastric fluid from the lungs during chest compressions.

When discussing this with the original coroner, John McNish, he pointed out that my Dad did not have enough alcohol in his system to kill him, nor were his heart troubles severe enough to have played a role in his death, and that I had a 100 percent chance in winning a lawsuit against the RCMP.

Interestingly, McNish, who was the original coroner, is not listed on the final coroner’s report in any capacity. Many details that had been discussed were left out of the final report and a different coroner had signed off on it. I believe this to be a coverup.

What also wasn’t included in the final coroner’s report were the dark bruises on my Dad’s temple and above his nose, which I saw photographs of from my lawyer at the time.

Racism truly had a hand in the death of my Father, Frank James Watts, as more First Nations have been neglected and have also died at that police department in Prince Rupert.

In the coroner’s inquest, recommendations were made, but seemingly were never implemented, as more wrongful deaths continued at the police department in Prince Rupert following the death of my Father.

Originally, my lawyer represented us for the coroner’s inquest but was unable to proceed with a wrongful death claim. I asked around another 20 lawyers for help. No lawyers would help me, as I later realized that at the time of my Dad’s death, my siblings and I were grown adults and were not considered financial dependents. Under BC law, that meant my Dad’s life was worthless and free for the RCMP to neglect and kill without any sort of accountability under provincial legislation.

I had tried to pursue truth and justice for my Father’s death but was unable to receive help from anyone.

Prior to my Father’s death, I was a youth worker and a vibrant contributor to the community, and following these terrible events I ended up becoming lost in addiction because I was so angry and suddenly my life seemed so hopeless.

With help from the Union Gospel Mission, I’ve now been clean and sober for the past four years and have been working very hard to get my life back on track. I’ve nearly completed a bachelor’s degree in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Simon Fraser University and hope to thereafter earn a Master’s in Environmental Science. I am looking forward to bringing forth positive change in British Columbia. I want to get justice for my Father and anyone else who died wrongfully in Police custody.

I reached out to The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society because I wanted my Father’s story told and my voice to be heard.

So many others in the First Nations community are afraid to come forward, or have been completely defeated by the system and don’t feel that justice is even possible. My three brothers, three sisters, and nieces and nephews were severely traumatized by what happened to my Dad.

I’m wanting to carry the torch forward and set an example for my community and work for positive change, access to justice, and accountability for wrongdoers.

I pray with all my heart that justice will be served and these inhumane laws changed.

Media Coverage

Union Gospel Mission – Finding My Peace In Forgiveness

About the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society

‘In Their Name’ is the campaign of the ‘BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society’ – an organization comprised of families who have lost a loved one to wrongful death in BC and were denied access to justice. In response to the biggest human rights issue facing the province today, our goal is to modernize British Columbia’s antiquated wrongful death legislation, which predates confederation (1846). Under current legislation, the value of a human life is measured only by the deceased’s future lost income, so long as they had dependents.

As a result, access to justice has been denied to the families of the wrongfully killed who do not meet this discriminatory criteria. This has affected especially vulnerable groups, namely children, seniors, the disabled, and anyone without dependents when they are killed by the careless or intentional acts of another.

BC is presently the last of all the provinces, including the Yukon, yet to have undertaken this critical legislative modernization to allow for dignity, value, and protections for all its citizens under the law.

When it’s ‘free’ to kill in BC, wrongdoers are not held accountable. This lack of general deterrence holds the province back in innovation of safety measures and protocols to prevent wrongful deaths in the first place.

Here’s How You Can Get Involved…

The Attorney General of British Columbia, David Eby, is the Minister responsible for the ‘Family Compensation Act’ – the guiding piece of legislation that the civil courts must follow in cases of wrongful death. Minister Eby receives feedback from the regional ‘Members of the Legislative Assembly’ (MLAs) and follows orders from the Premier, John Horgan.

Reform is presently at a standstill, as the BC NDP government does not presently view access to justice for the surviving family members of the wrongfully killed as a priority in this province. This is despite the fact that the families behind our Society have been fighting for modernization for over two decades. And despite the fact that all other provinces, including the Yukon, have already modernized in most cases long ago.

The only way to move this forward is by creating massive public awareness and outcry for legislative modernization. Only under the scrutiny of the media and the public will our politicians be forced to take this necessary, and long overdue action.

How many more people will need to die from the same preventable wrongful actions before our politicians will do their job?

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Petition Your MLA Now

Unlike other Canadian provinces, BC has not made any significant amendments to its wrongful death legislation—ever. The current BC Family Compensation Act only values the lives of income-earners. This neglect must stop. Petitioning your local MLA, the Attorney General, and Premier with our automated tool can make a lasting difference to the lives of British Columbians for generations to come.

Dear Local MLA, Attorney General David Eby, Premier John Horgan, Minister of Health Adrian Dix, Minister of Public Safety & Solicitor General Mike Farnworth,

I am writing to you about the preventable death of Frank James Watts and British Columbia’s woefully outdated wrongful death laws; which are still based on colonial era legislation from 1846.

BC’s current Family Compensation Act only takes into account the direct financial losses resulting from the wrongful death of a loved one. As a result, only the families of deceased breadwinners see the inside of a courtroom in cases of wrongful death.

Children, seniors, people with disabilities, or anyone who does not meet the discriminatory criteria of having both an income and dependents are classes of people whose lives are not valued or respected when they are killed in BC.

This is a human rights issue.

Investigations into the wrongful death of these classes of citizens most often do not occur because there is no ‘loss of earnings’ to cover civil trial costs.

Accordingly, families have been denied the ability to right the wrong and ensure that the same preventable actions which resulted in the wrongful death would not happen to another.

Unlike other provinces in Canada, which in most cases have modernized long ago, many of your constituents are considered “worthless” under the discriminatory law in British Columbia.

Frank James Watts, sadly, is one of these cases where no accountability can be brought against wrongdoers who both contributed and stood aside and let him die while in police custody. His story can be read here –

The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society is comprised of families who have been fighting for over two decades to see our laws modernized. They have drafted legislation that can solve this problem now.

What will you do to create a fair and adequate wrongful death law in BC?

Yours Truly,

Your Full Name
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cc: Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond, Liberal Critic for Attorney General Mike de Jong, Liberal Critic for Public Safety & Solicitor General Mike Morris, BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau

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