Kamloops RCMP knew 'suspicious debris' was a body long before informing the public | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops RCMP knew 'suspicious debris' was a body long before informing the public

A memorial for Wade Hart stands near the site of an encampment fire that was doused on Jan. 20, 2024.

Kamloops Mounties issued a cryptic news release in January after officers blocked a downtown riverfront trail and asked the public to stay clear of the area.

The public would learn the next day that a body had been found, and later that it was the body of a man named Wade Hart.

City of Kamloops records, however, show that RCMP, bylaw officers and a contractor cleaning up Hart's burnt camp knew it was a body immediately.

At 4 p.m., Jan. 23, Kamloops RCMP said a contractor was cleaning up the scene of a fire earlier that afternoon and uncovered "suspicious debris." RCMP said more information would be released when it was "available."

Kamloops RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Crystal Evelyn did not respond to an email sent to her that afternoon that asked what she meant by "suspicious debris."

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iNFOnews.ca learned from an official at the scene the next morning that a body had been found in the burnt riverside encampment, just west of Pioneer Park. Police issued a news release later that morning, stating the BC Coroners Service confirmed it was a body.

Evelyn would double down on Jan. 25 when asked whether police used misleading language when the detachment knew the "debris" was a body.

"At the time of the report, it was not confirmed that what was discovered in the debris were human remains. The definition of debris is the remains of something broken down or destroyed, which is not misleading. Something found in the debris was suspicious," she said in an emailed written response.

Debris from Hart's camp was piled in a heap on Feb. 3, 2024, after police cleared the scene. Much of the pile was not burned.
Debris from Hart's camp was piled in a heap on Feb. 3, 2024, after police cleared the scene. Much of the pile was not burned.

City records suggest otherwise.

According to a timeline of the event written by bylaw officer Richelle Cotter, it was the bylaw department, not RCMP, that were first called to the scene at 1:30 p.m. Cotter emailed the timeline to her supervisor Mo Perri on the morning of Jan. 24. iNFOnews.ca obtained the email through a Freedom of Information request.

Cotter said the clean-up crew called to ask whether RCMP were notified because they "may have" found a body. They hadn't notified police.

"I immediately called RCMP to make a file at 1330hrs. I left the Mission Flats office and headed down to the location," the email read. She got another call just minutes later and said the contractor "confirmed it is a deceased person."

"I called back the RCMP and stated it is confirmed a deceased body at 1338hrs."

READ MORE: Probe finds no wrongdoing after Kamloops fire crew missed body in encampment blaze

The email goes on to detail how crews discussed the need to check on Kamloops Fire Rescue files about the fire and, more immediately, assist RCMP with guarding the scene.

"If you want the aftermath of what happened throughout the afternoon to current let me know," the email concluded. It's not clear if Perri asked for the "aftermath" as it is not included in the documents provided by the city.

Local non-profit leader Alfred Achoba said the police description of Hart's body was "misleading" to the public and "stigmatizing" for the homeless population.

"I think every human would agree with me that if they have this info and are referring to a deceased individual, who's a child, a parent, a mom, a brother, as just debris, I feel like that is really hurtful to not just our community, but the working relationship we have with the RCMP," Achoba, executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association Kamloops, said.

Achoba was reminded of past challenges with RCMP officers at a local shelter while responding to overdoses last year. In one incident, an officer took videos of the people inside the shelter. During another, officers made disrespectful comments toward a person who needed naloxone.

Officer interactions at shelters, and the detachment's relationship with non-profits, have been improving over the year, Achoba said.

"I also think if we lean on the fact that there have been improvements and we don't call out the one or two bad experiences, I think it's a disservice to those who are impacted. Think about if you are parent and this is your child; it's heartbreaking to hear them described that way," he said.

He plans to take his concerns about the "debris" reference up with detachment commander Supt. Jeff Pelley.

"I will totally be asking for an apology from the detachment and a commitment to being sensitive around the work they do, and the interaction with not just service providers but the clients we serve and the community as a whole," Achoba said.

When Hart's body was found, it had been in the wreckage of his burnt camp for at least three days.

Firefighters attended the scene on Jan. 20, where the encampment fire was intensified by bursting propane tanks.

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It was a nearly two-hour incident from the time they left the fire hall to when it was doused and the scene searched.

To learn later that Hart's body was found in the camp was "devastating," deputy fire chief Ryan Cail said in a previous interview with iNFOnews.ca.

The department investigated internally to find out how the body was missed, then brought in new protocols to ensure it doesn't happen again. Encampment fires will now be treated more like a structure fire. They will await RCMP and preserve evidence before leaving such a scene again.

Hart was never identified by authorities as the man who died in the fire. RCMP pointed to the coroners service for any updates, while the coroners service refused to answer any questions about the investigation.

The 56-year-old's name was discovered through a memorial now posted near the scene. A cross showing his birthday and the date of his death is attached to a tree, along with his photo, flowers and messages from loved ones.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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