Montreal Police Kill Another Black Man (June 27, 2017)

The Montreal police have a terrible history of killing Black civilians. The names of some of the victims, such as Presley Leslie, Marcellus Francois, and Alain Magloire, give testimony to that fact. That is only part of the story as Black residents regularly speak out against racial profiling and violence directed against them by Montreal police. It is important to note, then, that the 58-year-old man shot multiple times and killed by Montreal police on June 27, 2017, has been identified as a Black man by the BEI (Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, Bureau of Independent Investigations), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Quebec. The victim has not yet been named.

The killing again raises many questions about the Montreal police force (though racism and regular deployment of lethal force are standards of police forces across Canada at municipal, provincial, and federal levels). As Fo Niemi, the executive director of Montreal’s Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, suggests: “It raises the question, ‘where do we go from here?’ Is this a case where race plays a role in this incident? Is it mental health? I think there are a lot of questions here that need to be asked because this is not a situation that should occur too often in this city” (quoted in CBC News 2017).

Before being shot the man had only been suggested to be breaking things in his apartment. Surely not a capital, or even particularly harmful “offense.” As community activist Will Prosper, a former RCMP officer, puts it the man appears not have been “presenting a menace to anyone except to his apartment” (quoted in CBC News 2017). Yet police moved to coercive, then lethal means. Questions must be asked about the role of racism, or implicit bias, in this.

Critics note that police use of threatening behavior and the display of weapons will only make the situation worse in a case of someone experiencing mental distress or already feeling anxious and defensive. As Prosper suggests: “That’s not what you need to preserve the life of the citizen. It’s going to do the [complete opposite], and I think that’s probably what happened in this case” (quoted in CBC News 2017). In Prosper’s view, the man could have benefited from someone talking to and calming him down without the presence of weapons. In Prosper’s words: “If you’re saying ‘calm down’ and you have the gun pointed at his face, that’s not going to work” (quoted in CBC News 2017). This is why police should not be sent in such cases in place of health care providers (if anyone needs to be sent for smashing dishes at home at all).

Police racism and the killings of Black men have received too little public attention and ire. These realities have been ideologically downplayed by governments at all levels. They have also been distorted and denied by police officers, forces, and associations. Criminologists in Canada have also done too little to expose and challenge these issues, too often playing the part of police apologists. Black Lives Matter activists and movements have done much work to shift understandings in the Canadian context.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2017. “’Where do We Go from Here?’ Fatal Shooting by Montreal Police Raises Hard Questions.” CBC News. June 28. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-police-shooting-mental-illness-1.4181469

 


58-Year-Old Man Shot Multiple Times and Killed by Montreal Police (June 27, 2017)

Montreal police shot and killed a 58-year-old man in the mid-evening of June 27, 2017 outside his home. The man was shot multiple times by police at about 7:19 PM after they were apparently called out because the victim was said to be committing the high crime of destroying things in his own apartment near the corner of Robillard and St-André streets. Police claim they used a taser and rubber bullets on the man before deciding they needed to kill him.

City ambulance services have reported that the victim was in cardiac arrest when he was transported to hospital. The BEI (Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, Bureau of Independent Investigations), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Quebec, is investigating.


Austin Eaglechief (22) Dies After Being Shot by Saskatoon Police, Crashing Vehicle

On June 19, 2017, Saskatoon police shot 22-year-old Austin Eaglechief. The young man then crashed the vehicle he was driving into another vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy suggests the gunshot was not the cause of death but it does not speak to the part that being shot played in the fatal crash. A 33-year-old passenger was also injured in the crash. Critics of the police suggest that officers were too quick to shoot the young man. The Saskatoon police force has a history of racist treatment and violence against Indigenous people in the city and nearby locales.


IIO Determines RCMP Killed Man the Force Claimed Killed Self

There has long been a concern, a suspicion, that police claim victims of police shootings have died of self-inflicted wounds when, in fact, they were killed by officers. (That suspicion has been particularly strong in cases where police investigate police.) One such case was confirmed on Monday, June 26, 2017 when the Internal Investigations Office (IIO) in British Columbia, the oversight agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians overturned an RCMP claim that the June 18, 2017, death of a Lower Mainland man had died of a self-inflicted wound despite police firing shots at the man. The IIO has determined that the man killed in Port Coquitlam, in fact, died from a police bullet.

In a media release on Juen 26, IIO spokesperson Marten Youssef declared: “Initial reports made to the IIO … by the RCMP, suggested that a distraught male may have shot himself following an exchange of gunfire with police. Following an autopsy, it has been determined that the male’s death was not self-inflicted.” In the initial, confused, report from the RCMP the force had made it seem publicly that the man had killed himself. That was the impression they shaped for the public.

The IIO  reported that it had interviewed six police officers and 30 witnesses over the past week. They have additionally reported that in the hours after the police killing a male relative of the man killed also received “serious injuries.” That situation is still being investigated. No police officers were injured.

While recognizing the numerous problems with the IIO, one can speculate how the initial RCMP claims might have been treated had another police force investigated the present case. RCMP distorting facts for public management after killing someone is not unique in the province as the killing of Robert Dziekanski showed.


IIO Investigates after Man Dies During Police Encounter, Shots Fired

The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in British Columbia, is investigating the death of a man during an encounter with police in which shots were fired by police. Publicly available details are sketchy at the moment but it is suggested by the IIO that RCMP responded to a report of a distraught man threatening to harm himself outside a home in Port Coquitlam, Metro Vancouver, Sunday June 18, 2017. The IIO statement is unclear and suggests only that the man fired shots  into the air, yet there is an investigation into whether his injuries were self-inflicted. Police are said to have fired weapons during the encounter and the victim was found dead after RCMP fired.


SIU Investigates Death of Man Following Call from Police

The Special Investigations Unit, the institution that investigates cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, is examining the death of a Smiths Falls, Ontario man who apparently shot himself after receiving a phone call from a police officer threatening arrest for undisclosed reasons. On June 3, 2017, an officer of the Ontario Provincial Police phoned the man and spoke to him of a pending arrest, according to the SIU media release. At about 3:20 PM that same day, the man called 911, reporting that he had suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Paramedics and police responded and the man was airlifted to the Civic Hospital in Ottawa. He would die there of his injuries on June 9, pronounced dead at 7:47 PM. The SIU has assigned three investigators and two forensic investigators to examine the circumstances of the man’s death. Nothing has been released publicly about the nature of the police call to the man or the reasons such a call might have been made or such an approach taken by police.


Institutional Racism Finally Addressed at Inquest into Toronto Police Killing of Andrew Loku

A report published by the Toronto Star In August 2015, one month after Andrew Loku was shot and killed by Toronto police officer Andrew Doyle, found that, of the 51 fatal shootings involving the Toronto police between 1990 and 2015, at least 18 involved Black men (Gillis 2017). This represented 35 percent of fatal police shootings (Gillis 2017). In another 17 cases, or 33 percent, the racialized background of the victim of the police killing was deemed not identifiable with certainty (Gillis 2017). The population of Black people in Toronto over that time was approximately nine percent. Despite this fact there had been reluctance by some, including the coroner, as well as expected opposition from police, to address the issue of institutional racism among police head on and by name in the inquest into Andrew Loku’s killing by police.

Marianne Wright, the lawyer representing Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, said parties to the inquest “should stick to the notions which are within the scope of the inquest. I’m struggling with the emotional content of the word racism” (quoted in Gillis 2017). Others struggled with the emotional content of racism itself and the racist actions of killer cops in Toronto.

Howard Morton, the lawyer for community group Across Boundaries, a mental health organization working for racialized communities and the organization that called McKenzie as a witness, argued that there was “nothing wrong with confronting a live issue like racism. To deprive me of the use of the word racism . . . it just confounds me and I’m flummoxed to the nth degree about why we’re all afraid of that term” (quoted in Gillis 2017).

The discussion of institutional racism centered on the looming testimony of Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatrist and the director of health equity at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, who was set to address organizational practices and racism. His work argues that organizations need to acknowledge that racism exists in their institutions in order to effect change.

Coroner and inquest head Dr. John Carlisle ruled late Monday, June 19, in the third week of the inquest, that “questions of the witness will not explore the topic of racism” (quoted in Gillis 2017). That decision led to an application from Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) lawyer Selwyn Pieters requesting a reconsideration. Pieters’ application asked that McKenzie “be permitted to testify in respect to racism…particularly systemic and institutional racism” (quoted in Shahzad 2017). In his words: “It is a manifest error in the context of this case to speak of implicit bias and exclude racism. Racism is the elephant in the room in this case” (quoted in Gillis 2017). Implicit bias had been addressed by psychology professor Dr. Nicholas Rule in the inquest’s second week, but institutional racism itself had not been explicitly discussed.

Dr. Carlisle’s ruling was not overturned but council reached an agreement that discussion of institutional racism would not be prohibited. In Pieter’s words: “Today, the witness was able to be questioned unimpeded and to delve into the issue of racism, and anti-Black racism, and I think we made some headway” (quoted in Gillis 2017). He continued: “Dr. McKenzie was able to give us evidence unimpeded in respect to racism and what institutional structures need to be changed in order to foster a culturally inclusive environment that is free from racism” (quoted in Shahzad 2017).

For his part, when questioned about institutional racism at the inquest, Dr. McKenzie noted that “training by itself won’t make the difference…more has to happen throughout the institution” (quoted in Shahzad 2017). Yet policing in Canada is founded in colonial and racist violence. Policing institutions have had generations to change but no impetus to do so.

Idil Abdillahi, a former board chair for Across Boundaries, concluded: “We can’t ignore that this man was a Black man. This active refusal to engage race and racism is what we see playing out here” (quoted in Gillis 2017). It is the racism at the heart of policing in Canada.

 

Further Reading

Gillis, Wendy. 2017. “Final Witness Prompts Debate over Racism at Andrew Loku Inquest.” Toronto Star. June 20. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/06/20/11th-hour-motion-says-racism-must-be-discussed-at-andrew-loku-inquest.html

Shahzad, Ramna. 2017. “Expert Psychiatrist Testifies on Institutional Racism at Andrew Loku Inquest.” CBC News. June 20. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/loku-motion-racism-1.4169115