It says plenty about the protections afforded police who kill civilians in Canada that months after a killing even minimal details about the event are not released to public or media. Officers involved are shielded from public scrutiny. Media are not allowed to report the issue in a manner consistent with an open and democratic system. Loved ones are left to ask painful questions. And live with excruciating silence from the agencies involved and responsible for providing answers. This serves to protect the system and allows police agencies time to reconstruct events, and their stories, to suit their own interests.
Seven months after Hudson Brooks, 20, was shot down in the street outside of an RCMP detachment in South Surrey, BC, the young man’s family has received no answers and few insights into how or why their loved one came to be a victim of police violence. This despite repeated requests made to the RCMP and the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the province’s police oversight body for information. This despite public appeals for disclosure from the RCMP, IIO, and local politicians, including two marches involving hundreds of supporters.
What is known for sure is that Hudson Brooks was shot multiple times and killed by an RCMP officer or officers outside the force’s South Surrey detachment. The IIO, in one of its few informational statements on the killing, has also confirmed that only a police service weapon was recovered at the scene. No other weapons were present. This is crucial because RCMP, as is often the case in police killings of civilians, initially suggested in media reports that there had been an exchange of shots between Brooks and the RCMP resulting in a gunshot wound to one officer. It now appears that the officer’s injury was either self-inflicted or a result of friendly fire. Brooks was not even wearing a t-shirt at the time he was shot and killed. He had no weapon or place to hide it.
Later police tried to claim that Brooks was suicidal. As in other recent cases in BC the RCMP sought to disparage and blame the victim (as if being suicidal could legitimize police killing someone—only in that authoritarian culture of impunity). Brooks family and friends have been clear and consistent that the young man was happy, optimistic, with a bright future.
Incredibly, neither Surrey’s Mayor Linda Hepner nor local MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) for Surrey-White Rock Gordon Hogg have contacted the Brooks family whether to provide information or even to offer condolences. In the words of Jennifer Brooks, Hudson Brooks’ mother: “Our son was shot down in the streets of Surrey—they haven’t reached out to me. Where is the compassion? A young man loses his life and we’re not contacted” (quoted in Holmes 2016). A stunning lack of compassion, and basic human decency, which would certainly not be the case in the event of a police officer being killed by a civilian.
Hudson Brooks’ mother has lived with indescribable pain since her son was killed by RCMP officers early in the morning on July 18, 2015. Following the February 2016 march commemorating her son, Jennifer Brooks asked: “Every moment of everyday, I wonder, I get up, first thing I think of is what happened to Hudson? How did this escalate to the point that lethal force was used on my son, my unarmed son?” (quoted in Beja 2016).
There is much for the RCMP to answer for. Jennifer Brooks needs to know. The RCMP need to answer: “I don’t know why my unarmed son was shot multiple times. Why was lethal force used on Hudson? Why was he shot five to seven times? The silence is killing me. I have no answers. It’s devastating” (quoted in Chan 2016).
Outrageously, the IIO points to an increase in officer-involved shootings, and the strain on resources they cause, as leading to a backlog of investigations that has left many families of victims of police violence seeking answers. According to Marten Youssef, spokesperson for the IIO: “Our timeliness has suffered, and that is partly due to a spike in officer-involved shootings and officer-involved fatalities” (quoted in Beja 2016). According to provincial records, between September 2014 and December 2015, there were 20 officer-involved fatalities, 12 were firearm-related, in British Columbia. That compares to one recorded fatal shooting by police in 2013 and three fatal shootings by police in 2012. The rise in killings of civilians by police in BC has led the IIO to hire more investigators to deal with the back-log. At public expense. Yet the activities of the IIO since their inception suggest that they remain largely toothless in holding killer cop accountable or in reigning in murderous forces in the province. In effect they offer no deterrence for killer cops and minimal real oversight.
Jennifer Brooks suggests that the increase in police-involved shootings over the previous year points to a pressing need for better training. In her view: “When there is someone in distress, the first thing to do is not shoot, not use lethal force” (quoted in Beja 2016). In the words of Hudson Brooks’ brother Beaudry: “Too many don’t have proper training and aren’t ready for the position they are in. It leads to things like this. It shouldn’t have happened” (quoted in Chan 2016).
Others would suggest that disarming the police in British Columbia might be a necessary step. Others call for ending the RCMP contracts in sub/urban centers like Surrey.
The silence and disengagement from public requests for answers is telling in the context of RCMP targeting of Surrey for increased policing and stated efforts toward community mobilization. Indeed the RCMP has long viewed Surrey as a site of force expansion and budgetary increase. They are banking on Surrey, and fear campaigns and moral panics targeting the city, in a context in which crime rates on the whole are declining consistently over years (with associated threats to police budgets). RCMP have established a public relations outreach officer in Surrey staffed by an officer who is also part of the RCMP campaign to gain a foothold in local communities by securing a faculty position in the local university, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, that enrolls the greatest proportion of Surrey post-secondary students. This has been central in efforts to recruit younger local residents while gaining access to informants, friends and family, in the neighborhoods of Surrey.
Yet when families ask for answers about the RCMP killing their children, nothing.
Beja, Tanya. 2016. “Rally Held for Man Fatally Shot by Surrey RCMP in 2015.” Global News. February 21. http://globalnews.ca/news/2531665/rally-held-for-hudson-brooks-fatally-shot-by-surrey-rcmp-in-2015/
Chan, Cheryl. 2016. “Family Still Seeks Answers in Fatal Surrey RCMP Shooting of 20-Year-Old Last July.” The Province. February 22. http://www.theprovince.com/news/family+still+seeks+answers+fatal+police+shooting+hudson+brooks+surrey+rcmp+last+july/11734777/story.html
Holmes, Tracy. 2016. “Our Leaders Haven’t Reached Out to Me: Mother.” Peace Arch News. February 23. http://www.peacearchnews.com/news/369864111.html