This article was drafted by: Leonard Cler-Cunningham and Mia Wood. Dedicated to the memory of John Wilson. A better man than I will ever be and a better friend than I will ever deserve.

If absence speaks volumes the upcoming provincial election illustrates that British Columbia has kept their traditional identity as Canada’s oafish political cartoon. We live in a province that relies on the investigative capacity of the New York Times to uncover serious political issues such as the abuse of corporate tax shelters and pay for play political access by wealthy donors.

If investigative journalism was calcium British Columbia would suffer from near fatal osteoporosis, so foreign political observers watching the provincial election could be forgiven for thinking that British Columbia is unique in Canada for being the only province without an indigenous population or that a level of political harmony has been achieved with First Nations that approaches nirvana. The truth is even sadder – and explains how the ruling liberal party can run on a platform of job and wealth creation based on resource extraction – most, if not all, of which will occur on First Nations territory – all while paying nothing but lip service to First Nations.

There has been a long history of neglect and near criminal incompetence where the police in BC were allowed to investigate themselves when somebody died in police custody. This lead to the creation of the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia. An important step forward that begs the question you will never hear – what about cases or incidents from the past (before the creation of the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia). One of the incidents in the Not In The Public Interest series is the story of Harvey Jack. If you were born after 1984, you won’t find Harvey Jack’s story. Google won’t take you there with the click of a button.

Harvey’s story requires a writer. Not a blogger, too much detail for a Twitter feed, nor is it a convenient Facebook share— it has to be found. To know Harvey Jack requires the sustained effort of outdated technologies. His is a tactile story glimpsed through the click, whirrs, and flapping of microfiche; the story is uncovered by navigating the spatial configuration of filing cabinets where glimpses are revealed through the slide and rustle of photocopies in archival files. Unlike Wikipedia, neither microfiche nor the photocopy can be altered or cajoled into a kinder or nastier portrayal. There is, however, an unalterable fact that neither time, technology, nor effort will ever change.

On May 18th 2009, Harvey Jack died. For us, his story starts when he was 23. Harvey was barely eking out a living harvesting clams and oysters off the beaches on the eastern shores of Vancouver Island, but he didn’t need much money. It was enough to keep him in beer and smokes, and if he saved some cash he might be able to fulfil his ambition to buy a car and score a girlfriend. But on the night of October 13th 1983, even this was about to be placed outside of his reach. Harvey had spent the night drinking in a local Nanaimo tavern. The day’s rain had left the streets slick and the car he was in skidded across the road and smashed into a tree.The relatively unscathed driver and other passenger were able to walk away from the crash.

When RCMP constables arrived at the scene, they found Harvey Jack alone and awkwardly folded over in the back seat of a crumpled automobile. They pulled him from the car’s wreckage. Put him in the cruiser. Took him to the detachment. Dumped him in the drunk tank. People who believe in ‘honour among thieves’ or that some kind of camaraderie amongst prisoners exists have never been in prison or even spent a night in the drunk tank. Jails are feral Darwinian landscapes where the law of each man for himself rules. So shit must have been obviously bad for Harvey because it was the other prisoners in his cell who were willing to risk their early release, who repeatedly demanded that he be taken to the hospital to be checked out. Many hours after the RCMP pulled him from the car’s wreckage, Harvey Jack was taken to Nanaimo General Hospital where it was quickly determined that Harvey wasn’t incapacitated because of alcohol. His neck was broken. The fracture to the fourth and fifth vertebrae was beyond the capability of the regional hospital so Harvey was flown out by helicopter to Vancouver to be operated on.

Harvey Jack paintings

Silence descends on stadiums when a professional athlete lay on the field or ice with a spinal cord injury. Even his competitors kneel in head-bowed silence as trained medical professionals address the injury with the gentlest of care. For even the simplest of aggravations of an injury to the vertebrae can, and will, leave a man paralyzed for life. An internal investigation by the RCMP was never released to the family. Newspaper accounts quote the Chief from Harvey ‘s Reserve as saying, “The story out now from the Nanaimo police isn’t the same as the few facts we have. Our experience is that the RCMP have tactics to protect themselves. They are maneuvering now to protect themselves and not to find out what happened.” Harvey sued the RCMP for willful negligence and they settled out of court. The details of the settlement were sealed from the public.

“I didn’t know Harvey until after his accident,” Karen Munroe, one of Harvey`s caregivers recalls.

“He was paraplegic and could do very little for himself. He was able to feed himself if he was in his electric wheelchair but not in bed. He had to use a special utensil and had to be set up by staff. A mechanical lift was used to get him out of bed and into his wheelchair. He was a total care and required staff for virtually everything. Once he was in the chair, he was able to get around on his own.” Karen remembers Harvey as “a funny and kind man that, despite his challenges and history, seemed to be a happy, outgoing, and social person. He was very well-liked and respected by everyone that knew him. The care staff spent a great deal of time with him chatting. Harvey wanted to see Disneyland, so two staff helped him organize the trip and off the three of them went. Harvey took up mouth painting and was actually pretty good at it.”

A man who makes his living with his hands, no matter how meagre, knows the quiet beauty of self-reliance. It wasn’t the event that left Harvey in a wheelchair that crippled his spirit; “Despite all of his challenges, he was a fairly happy man. I only ever saw him upset when he had to relive his experiences in the residential schools, but he never spoke to me about it and I never asked.” Karen didn’t have to ask. If she Googled the Kuper Island Residential School, she would have found this paragraph gently tucked away in the British Columbia Archives:

The conditions at the school were less than favourable, with approximately a third of the students dying from tuberculosis. Furthermore, medical experiments caused additional deaths and several children drowned when trying to swim across to Vancouver Island.
BC Archives

What the benign, and possibly wrong, summary fails to include was that priests who worked with the school were eventually charged with raping the First Nations children placed in their care. As a young child Harvey was snatched from his family and sent to be the captive of sexual predators. As a young man, just a year before he was crippled for life, Harvey’s cousin Clarence overdosed in police custody despite the repeated calls of the family that Clarence was suicidal and had taken over 60 pills. While the concept that Black Lives Matter migrated north to become resident in Canada’s political lexicon; in British Columbia there is no public interest in First Nations Lives. This isn’t rhetoric or hyperbole – it’s a legal ruling by British Columbia’s Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner. So there is little surprise that you won’t hear about Harvey, a his cousin Clarence, or any of the over 40 First Nations rapes, murders, and deaths in custody under investigation during the provincial election..

Just a year before the legal ruling that codified British Columbia’s backward political ignorance Harvey Charles (Rice) Jack – unbent and undiminished by things that would truly cripple most men -passed away on the eighteenth day of May 2009.

This article was drafted by: Leonard Cler-Cunningham and Mia Wood. Dedicated to the memory of John Wilson. A better man than I will ever be and a better friend than I will ever deserve.