A driver accused of injuring several people as they marched past a former residential school in Mission on Saturday has come forward to police.
Mission RCMP said the 77-year-old man is not in custody but is co-operating with investigators and his truck has been seized for examination.
Police said they haven’t ruled out serious charges in their investigation, but have so far only alleged that the driver drove dangerously due to impatience. That outraged marchers who said it should be treated as a dangerous hit-and-run and possibly a hate crime.
Several people suffered minor injuries when the driver tried to get around the group walking in what they called the March for Recognition of Residential Schools on Saturday afternoon. Twenty-one children are known to have died while attending the former St. Mary’s Residential School, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
The marchers were making their way from Heritage Park to the school, delaying eastbound traffic on a short stretch of Lougheed Highway, around 12:30 p.m. Saturday, said police.
“The march had a traffic control person in place, as there is only one eastbound lane, with no places to pass,” said RCMP Const. Harrison Mohr in a news release.
“Despite the safety risk, one driver pushed his way up through the group, making contact with approximately four persons in the group, including the traffic control person and one of the organizers of the march.”
Two people later went to hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
“The RCMP are totally downplaying what actually happened,” said Garett Dan of Abbotsford, who was in the march and whose parents attended the school. “They shouldn’t be sugar-coating anything like that. It was a hit and run. He fled the scene.”
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 hit more marchers further along the road.
Chris Robertson helped run the event, organized by the B.C. chapter of the Crazy Indians Brotherhood, a drug and alcohol support group. He said there were children and elders participating but none was hit.
Robertson heard that a truck had hit one of the traffic control flagpersons at the back of the march and then saw the truck coming up the shoulder towards him.
Several organizers called for the driver 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.
“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.”
Troy Ingraldi, who was at the back of the march directing traffic, alleged the driver spun his truck wheels as he pulled onto the shoulder, before hitting him with the truck and dragging him — which he says cause soft tissue damage, a cut lip and minor concussion.
One flagperson told Global News the driver yelled obscenities and made threats. “He started yelling and screaming and he was like, ‘F— you, you shouldn’t be closing these roads down.’
“I said, sir, you’ve just got to wait like everybody else and be patient, and he wasn’t having it. He started flipping out, screaming more. He was like, ‘If I want to, I’ll run everybody down on this highway.’ ”
Another flagperson, Ashton Edwards, alleged the truck then drove into another group of people, including him, and then drove away.
Neither Edwards nor Ingraldi said they believed the incident was targeted.
“I believe it was just an angry driver,” Ingraldi said.
Mohr told Postmedia News that, although a hate-crime charge isn’t off the table, the investigators’ working theory is the driver acted out of impatience.
“Evidence from the witnesses we have spoken with is that the driver’s actions were indicative of a dangerous driver trying to get by the group in an obviously unsafe manner,” said Mohr. “We will be investigating a range of potential offences, including dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.”
He said when investigators talk to the driver, “they will certainly be interested in hearing directly from him about what his intentions were that day. If any evidence surfaces that this was a hate crime, we will include that information in our charge recommendation.”
Mohr said some witnesses have not yet been able to talk to police and investigators are following up with them before making that recommendation to Crown counsel.
“It sounds like this driver became upset that his trip was going to be delayed by a few minutes,” said Mohr. “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.”
“Trying to save a few minutes of time by endangering the lives of others is simply unacceptable,” said Mohr in a news release.
Witnesses reported the truck’s licence plate number to police, but police said they were still trying to identify the driver.
Anyone with information or video is asked to call Mission RCMP at 604-826-7161.
— With files from The Canadian Press