911 Failed Kerri Canepotatoe and Matthew Armstrong

Press Release
April 21, 2010
(Vancouver, BC April 21, 2010) With events beginning April 8, a young woman, Kerri Canepotatoe from the Big River First Nation died tragically after hiking 70 kilometres in a desperate attempt to get help for three relatives who were stranded on a remote back road in north-western Saskatchewan.

“Without question, Kerri is a hero. The very system that saves countless lives and what we all depend on when we are in dire need, failed her” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

Canepotatoe, Melissa Rabbitskin and her two young children, were travelling near Loon Lake on April 8 and after getting stuck in a slough, Canepotatoe ventured out looking for help after 911 calls were made. Canepotatoe died of exposure. Unfortunately, it was not the 911 calls that led to the discovery of Canepotatoe and her relatives, whom had survived for seven days in the vehicle but the discovery of Canepotatoe’s body.

In a similar incident in northern BC on Jan. 1, 2009, 18 year old Matthew Armstrong called 911 four times pleading for help after getting lost in the woods south of Williams Lake. Like Canepotatoe, Armstrong also died needlessly from exposure.

“Matthew and Kerri would be alive today if the 911 and RCMP dispatchers did their jobs. Kerri and her relatives called 911 three times and Matthew called four times, how many times does it take to have the dispatchers respond? The sole intent of 911 is to render assistance in emergencies. Matthew’s and Kerri’s deaths are directly attributable to the failings of an outdated and inadequate 911 system,” stated Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.

“There is an urgent need not only to have properly trained personnel in dealing with these calls, but to ensure that wireless providers and emergency dispatchers upgrade their equipment so 911 calls aren’t lost in rural or remote areas and can be traced,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. “The UBCIC strongly believes that if such upgrades were implemented and properly trained personnel in place, the deaths of Matthew and Kerri would have been prevented.”

In closing, on behalf of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, we convey our prayers and sincere condolences to the grieving families.

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Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
(604) 684-0231

UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.