Monthly Archives: March 2016

Free to Kill Again: Calgary Cop Killed David McQueen While under Review for Killing Anthony Heffernan

In the Canadian state context there are few legal outcomes as rare as a police officer being convicted for killing a civilian. It is rare enough that an officer who kills someone is even charged for the taking of someone’s life. This is true even in those provinces that have separate investigations units that look into killings by police rather than simply turning a case over to another police force to “investigate.” Indeed as the recent decision by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) not to bring charges in the police killing of Andrew Loku and ongoing criticisms of the backlogged Independent Investigations Office (IIO) in British Columbia show, these agencies remain limited, and often impede by or too close to, police departments involved in killings. The Loku killing in particular has led to community mobilizations by Black Lives Matter Toronto and allies.

Still it is safe to assume that most residents of provinces that have a dedicated unit that investigates police killings of civilians, like Alberta, would expect that any officer involved in killing a civilian would, at the very least, be taken off of active street duty while under investigation or before any conclusions are released to the public. If an officer may have acted inappropriately, unduly, disgracefully it would only make sense that they would not be released upon the public until review of the officer, their outlook, and conduct was completed and some assessment made. Surely a killer cop would not be turned out on the streets to kill again.

Well, incredibly, stunningly, it seems that just such a situation has been allowed to happen in Alberta with, perhaps predictably, lethal consequences. On January 25, 2016 David McQueen, a quadriplegic, was shot by three Calgary police officers while in his wheelchair inside the doorway to his house. In March 2016 it was revealed that one of the officers who shot McQueen was, at the very moment he fired his weapon, under investigation by the province’s investigation unit ASIRT (Alberta Serious Incident Response Team) for killing another man a year earlier. And he had not been cleared of wrongdoing in the previous killing.

Less than a year before, on March 16, 2015, the officer who would be involved in McQueen’s killing, had shot Anthony Heffernan four times, three times in the head, while the young man was alone and in some distress, but defenseless, in a hotel room. In fact police broke down the door to forcibly enter Heffernan’s room in a Hotel 8 before shooting him.

Said Grant Heffernan, Anthony’s brother, upon hearing the news that the very cop who killed his brother had killed again: “I am more than outraged that this happened to somebody else in Calgary” (quoted in Grant 2016). The family had been told by ASIRT that as of November 2015 the officer had not returned to work but was actively trying to get back on the job (Grant 2016). Heffernan suggests that family could have dealt with the officer being placed on administrative duty, though they by no means saw this as ideal in the circumstances (Grant 2016). They were shocked that he had been returned to the streets. As Grant Heffernan said upon hearing that the same officer that killed his brother had killed again: “This is unfathomable that this happened and is totally unacceptable” (Grant 2016).

The Heffernan family lawyer echoed those sentiments. Tom Engel, commenting on the return of the officer to street duty ahead of being cleared by ASIRT and the Alberta Crown prosecutor:  “Frankly, it’s shocking. You have to respect the presumption of innocence. I don’t think that you should necessarily suspend the officer from all police duties, but you certainly would take him off the street so that he wouldn’t be in a position to do that again” (quoted in Grant 2016).

There are many questions to be answered in trying to figure out how a young man missing his check-out time could escalate so quickly to his being shot and killed by police. When he had no weapon and no capacity to harm the public (being isolated in a hotel room by himself).

There are also significant questions about how and why an officer under review for a killing of a civilian could be out on the streets to kill again. When a police officer is involved in a shooting, he or she is placed on a minimum 30 day administrative leave. At the end of that period, an evaluation is supposed to be undertaken to determine whether the officer can return to active duty and whether restrictions, and what type of restrictions, will be placed on them following their return. In this case it is not yet clear why the officer was allowed to return to the streets and what, if any, restrictions governed their activity.

On Thursday, March 17, 2016, the Heffernan family reported that the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team has finally told them that it has recommended murder charges. The decision to lay charges rests with the Crown prosecutors. In Grant Heffernan’s words: “ASIRT is pressing hard,” (Stark 2016). This is, of course, welcome news. Charges are, as we have noted, rarely laid against officers who kill civilians, even in instances where the case would appear straightforwardly to demand charges be brought.

The news from ASIRT has brought some comfort to the family. Grant Heffernan suggests it is helping their recovery: “I feel a little better about it. We were very skeptical about ASIRT and any officer being charged” (quoted in Stark 2016). The family will not know until May 1 whether the Crown will, in fact, follow through and lay charges against the officer.

Indeed, while the police have not responded formally to this news they did offer a rather arrogant, and perhaps knowingly confident, expression of their awareness that no homicide charges have ever been laid against a Calgary police officer (Stark 2016). Such has been too consistent practice in Canada when police brutalize or kill civilians.

The Heffernan family has filed a complaint under the Police Act. That case can go before the law enforcement review board even if charges are not formally laid against the officer (Grant 2016).

For Grant Heffernan there is only one appropriate outcome. That is to ensure that the cop cannot kill a third time. In his words: “The only way there is going to be any accountability and justice, is if the subject officer who killed my brother … faces criminal prosecution” (quoted in Grant 2016).

 

Further Reading

Grant, Meghan. 2016. “Anthony Heffernan, Dave McQueen Both Shot by Same Calgary Police Officer.” CBC News. February 10. http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/calgary/anthony-heffernan-dave-mcqueen-shooting-calgary-police-asirt-1.3440590

Stark, Jennifer. 2016. “Police Officer Who Shot Anthony Heffernan in Calgary Motel May Face Murder Charge.” CBC News. March 17. http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/calgary/asirt-shooting-charges-anthony-heffernan-1.3496182

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The Myth that Policing is Dangerous: Dismantling an Excuse They Use When They Kill Us

“It’s a dangerous job.”

“They put their lives on the line every time they suit up.”

“They’re under a lot of pressure.”

“They face constant threats.”

One of the most durable and potent myths about policing is that it is dangerous work. Indeed this myth is often used to justify police violence and the lethal use of force, quick trigger fingers and a shoot to kill ethos. This myth is used as well as political capital to justify growing militarization of police forces and the increasing “equipmentization” of forces (body armor, more powerful weaponry, armored vehicles, sound cannons, riot gear, etc.).

Yet it turns out that policing is nowhere near being one of the most dangerous jobs in Canada. Not even close. As Adriana Barton puts it: “But in terms of workplace hazards, firefighters and police officers are relative lightweights compared to workers at greatest risk for job-related accidents, and death. Among the most threatening health and safety issues for police officers, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and safety lists sitting and standing for long periods (CCOHS 2016). There are ore industrial deaths in Canada ever year than the number of police officers killed in Canada throughout the country’s history. Yet cops use the dangerous job myth to justify killing poor working class people (while doing nothing about the bosses responsible for workplace deaths).

Policing do not show up on any list of most dangerous jobs in Canada.

The top 10 most dangerous jobs (and their main hazards) are as follows:

  1. Loggers: falling trees, cutting equipment.
  2. Fisheries workers: drowning, heavy equipment.
  3. Pilots and flight engineers: air disturbances, high altitudes, takeoffs and landings.
  4. Roofers: falling from heights, heat stroke in summer.
  5. Structural iron and steel workers: falling from heights, heavy materials, welding.
  6. Garbage and recyclables collectors: hazardous materials, heavy equipment, road accidents.
  7. Electrical power line installers and repairers: electricity, falling from heights.
  8. Truck drivers and mobile sales workers: road accidents, exhaustion.
  9. Farmers, ranchers, agricultural managers: heavy equipment, large animals.
  10. Construction workers: dangerous equipment and large animals. (Barton 2014)

According to statistics from AWCBC (Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada), Canada’s most dangerous industries have the following rates of fatalities. Fishing and trapping have 52 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers. Mining, quarrying and oil wells have 46.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers. Logging and forestry have 33.3 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers. For construction the rate of fatalities is 20.2 per 100,000. The rate for transportation and storage is 16.0 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

And no one is willing to concede that the great danger faced by workers in these jobs justifies or legitimizes their killing people because they are under pressure, exposed to dangers, or simply afraid. “Going postal” should properly be termed “going cop” and should have been all along.

These are primarily blue collar jobs. And they typically do not pay anywhere near what police are paid in Canada. A recent survey of 4,500 Canadian police officers by Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of Western University found that 52 per cent of cops earn between $80,000 and $99,000 and 38 per cent earn $100,000 or more (cited in Quan 2012). Maclean’s magazine, the national newsweekly in Canada refers to police officers as part of Canada’s “new upper class” (Macdonald 2013).

In Windsor, Ontario, one of the most economically depressed cities in the country 40 percent of the police force took home more than $100,000 in 2012. In 2013, an arbitrator awarded the police a substantial 12 per cent pay hike over four years, retroactive to 2011 (Macdonald 2013). This despite one murder in the city over the previous three years combined and an overall decrease in crime rates. According to Maclean’s, police in British Columbia out-earned engineers, whose 2012 median income was $87,500, as reported by the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (Macdonald 2013). The median income for a police officer in Abbotsford was reported as $107,000 while provincially the median income for municipal police officers was around $95,000 (Macdonald 2013).

That is quite impressive danger pay. It far exceeds the pay of most of the workers in the actually dangerous jobs in Canada. Where is their danger pay? Quite the opposite. The average Canadian logger, the most dangerous job in Canada by many counts, earns a paltry $26,500 a year (Barton 2014).

Police promote and prey upon people’s fears of the scary, anonymous criminal, the bad person who seeks to harm us and against whom the police must always be armed, dangerous, and ready to kill (to defend themselves, of course). Yet people in Canada are consistently more likely to be killed simply trying to put food on the table or a roof over their heads. Twice as many people in Canada are killed carrying out their job than are murdered every year in Canada. In the Canadian context there are about five fatalities on the job per workday (Swartz 2016). There are typically more than 1,000 deaths each year in workplaces. Even more, there are about 15.5 cases of work-related injuries per thousand people employed in Canada (Swartz 2016). These are almost all avoidable deaths that occur simply because bosses are cutting corners and costs to increase profits. They are homicides.

Yet civilians are far more likely to be killed by police than police have to fear from civilians. A study by Whittingham in 1984, one of the few to study the issue in the Canadian context, found that between 1975 and 1979 the homicide rates per 100,000 for police officers were substantially lower than for the general public. Indeed the homicide rates for police officers were a minuscule 0.1 while for members of the general public the rates were 2.91 (Whittingham 1984). In reality it was safer being a police officer in Canada, considerably safer than simply being a person. So much for the dangerous job claim.

In reality the supposed scary criminal of police mythology has far more to fear from police than the other way around. As do we all.

Even if one looks at homicides the numbers are telling. Between 1961 and 2009 the Canadian government reports that 133 police personnel have been victims of homicide. Most of those deaths occurred in the first half of that time period, between 1961 and 1984. That was a period in which violent crime rates in Canada were up as a whole. Still that number puts police well behind other occupations. Taxi drivers are victims of on the job homicide at rates twice that of police. Some would suggest that other jobs such as sex work are even more dangerous and sex workers subject to even higher on the job homicide rates. The horrible irony is that, based on conversations with sex workers and street advocates, a number of those homicides likely come at the hands of police officers but will never be reported as such or perpetrators identified let alone charged or convicted.

Historically, a total of 234 officers with the RCMP and its predecessor, the North West Mounted Police, have died in the line of duty. Most of these were the result of accidents and natural disasters. The total number of RCMP officers shot and killed on duty is 78. In about a century-and-a-half (CBC News 2014).

Unfortunately there is no systematic record keeping of people killed by police in Canada. And, as stated above, there is no way to gain access to or record people who have been killed by police in back alleys or on the outskirts of town (as in the so-called “Blue Tours” in which police infamously drop largely indigenous people on the edge of town, in the snow, in the middle of a Canadian winter). So the numbers of people killed by cops in Canada is inevitably an undercount.  Still a few groups and individuals do try. Research done by killercopscanada and the Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policier (la CRAP) suggests that since 1987 there have been at least 847 people killed through contact with police in Canada. That number would be more than the number of police fatalities, of all forces, federal, provincial, and municipal, combined since 1865—before there was a Canada!

The myth of policing as a dangerous, risky, or threatening job is a political tool. It is promoted by corporate media, police associations, and governments to both justify and increase funding for forces (already the largest expenditure of municipal budgets) and to legitimize the regular and ongoing use of often lethal force against civilian, mostly poor working class, people. It is an ideological mechanism in regimes of regulation and accumulation. And it allows them to arm to the teeth, shoot first and ask questions later—and kill us with impunity.

 

Further Reading

Barton, Adriana. 2014. “And the Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs Are.” Globe and Mail. Jan. 15. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/and-the-top-10-most-dangerous-jobs-are/article16352517/

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. 2016. “OHS Answer Fact Sheet: Police.” http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/occup_workplace/police.html

CBC News. 2014. “Killed in the Line of Duty: History of RCMP Shooting Deaths.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. June 5. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/killed-in-the-line-of-duty-history-of-rcmp-shooting-deaths-1.2665668

Dunn, Sara. 2010. “Police Officers Murdered in the Line of Duty 1961–2009.” Juristat. Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2010003/article/11354-eng.htm

Macdonald, Nancy. 2013. “The $100,000 Club: Who’s Really Making Big Money These Days?” Maclean’s. April 15.  http://www.macleans.ca/economy/business/the-new-upper-class/

Quan, Douglas. 2012. “Canadian Police Officers Overworked, Understaffed, Stressed Out: Surevy.” Postmedia News. April 24. http://www.canada.com/health/Canadian+police+officers+overworked+understaffed+stressed+survey/6506477/story.html

Swartz, Mark. 2016. “Canada’s Most Dangerous Jobs: Weighing the Risks of Hazardous Careers.” Monster. http://career-advice.monster.ca/job-hunt-strategy/company-industry-research/canada-most-dangerous-jobs-ca/article.aspx

Whittingham, Michael D. 1984. “Police/Public Homicides and Fatalities in Canada: A Current Assessment—Serving and Being Protected.” Canadian Police Chief. 3(10): 4–8


Toronto Police Killing of Alex Wettlaufer: The One No One Worried About

When Toronto police pointed their guns at Alex Wettlaufer, the 21 year old was alone, isolated, and afraid. His family heard his fear as they spoke with him by phone moments before he was fatally shot by police.—Paramedics were called to the scene at 11:34 PM. Taken to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Alex Wettlaufer would die of his wounds in the early morning of March 14, 2016.

Police were reportedly responding to reports of two men fighting at the Leslie subway station in the late evening of March 13. How this would lead them to confront and kill Alex Wettlaufer in a park, Villaways Park, blocks away is not readily known.

What is known is that police claims about the confrontation, and the claim that Wettlaufer had a weapon, do not mesh with what family members heard over the phone as the young man plead with police to lower their weapons.

Wettlaufer was speaking with his family by phone moments before he was fatally shot by police. According to his mother, Wendy Wettlaufer: “He was crying, saying that he’s being surrounded. They kept telling him to put the weapon down, and he kept hollering telling them he didn’t have a weapon” (quoted in Wilson 2016)

According to his sister, Melissa Wettlaufer: “He told them it was just a phone, but they shot him anyway” (quoted in Gillis 2016). His loved ones heard him tell the police he only had a phone and try to get them to put their guns down.

Responding to police claims, the victim’s mother said: “Alex does not carry a gun, he’s never had a weapon, and he (doesn’t) own a weapon” (quoted in Wilson 2016).

His sister insisted that her brother had a lot to look forward to in life and would not have jeopardized it by challenging police. Not while he was waiting on word of his acceptance into the army, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his late father “Shorty.” In his sister Melissa’s words: “He is not really a fighter and he wouldn’t have turned around and ruined everything because he was going into the army” (quoted in Wilson 2016).

People who knew the young man agreed that they knew him as someone who worked hard at school. He was described as being serious in his approach. Alex Wettlaufer’s sister-in-law put it like this: “He was the one no one worried about” (quoted in Campbell 2016).

Wettlaufer’s brother noted that his younger sibling worked in a factory and had never had any run-ins with the law prior to being shot and killed by police. His brother described him as a quiet man who did not even use social media. He believed he had never touched a gun (Campbell 2016). According to his brother, who preferred not to be named: “He kept to himself and was never in trouble” (quoted in Campbell 2016).

A neighbor, Lilieth Rankine, who has known the Wettlaufer family for years, and lives in the same housing complex on Leslie north of Sheppard, remembers the victim fondly. In her view: “He’s a good kid, went to school, finished school. I don’t get it . . . What happened? Can you imagine what the community is going through?” (quoted in Gillis 2016).

Another family friend Diane Storm similarly remembered Alex Wettlaufer as focused with specific personal goals in life. In her words: “He was quiet, kept to himself … (he wanted) to get out of here, to get out of housing” (quoted in Gillis 2016). Storms suggests, ominously, that the stigma and attention that young men in the community receive from police posed ongoing, real, and potentially fatal barriers, for young residents. She suggests: “When you are trying to improve yourself, it doesn’t help when you have this stigma” (quoted in Gillis 2016).

Sadly, Wettlaufer was a classmate and friend of Sammy Yatim, a young man infamously shot and killed by police while he was completely alone and isolated on a Toronto street car. The officer who killed Yatim, James Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder in a curious verdict (“attempted murder” even though he actually killed Yatim) following a rare case of a police officer in Canada actually being brought to trial for killing someone.

The Wettlaufer family reported that their loved one was simply returning home after visiting his girlfriend at the time police confronted and killed him. His brother said he was walking through the park after taking his girlfriend to the subway station.

Family friend Diane Storms was shaken by the killing. She asks: “Can you imagine, talking to your child on the phone, then hearing gunshots? And then silence?” (quoted in Gillis 2016).

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which probes incidents of death, serious injury, and allegations of sexual assault involving police, has been investigating the killing since Monday morning.  Four investigators and three forensic investigators have been assigned to the case.

 

Further Reading

Campbell, Will. 2016. “SIU Probes Death of 21-Year-Old Shot by Police in North York.” Global News. http://globalnews.ca/news/2575972/siu-investigating-after-man-injured-in-north-york-shooting/

Gillis, Wendy. 2016. “Man, 21, Dead after Police Shooting.” Toronto Star. March 16. http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2016/03/14/one-dead-after-shooting-in-north-york-allegedly-involving-toronto-police.html

Wilson, Codie. 2016. “SIU Investigating after Toronto Man Killed in Police Involved Shooting.” CP24. March 14. http://www.cp24.com/news/siu-investigating-after-toronto-man-killed-in-police-involved-shooting-1.2815962


Toronto Police Kill another Person Suffering Mental Illness (Devon LaFleur, March 4, 2016)

Police in Canada have an alarming and dubious record of killing people who are apparently struggling with mental health issues. Late in the evening of Friday, March 4, 2016 the Toronto police, among the forces most notorious for executing people with mental illness, killed again. The victim, not identified by police, has been identified by family as Devon LaFleur, an Ottawa resident said to be struggling with mental health issues. According to family, who reported LaFleur missing on Friday, he had been suffering with bipolar disorder. The young man was shot multiple times and killed in front of a women’s shelter where he had gone to visit a friend after travelling to Toronto.

According to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Ontario’s police watchdog, officers shot the 30-year-old man in front of a building on Bayview Avenue, south of Steeles Avenue East, in North York around 10 PM Friday evening. The victim was taken to Sunnybrook Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

According to SIU spokesman Jason Gennaro a dozen officers were on the scene at the time LaFleur was shot and killed. According to the SIU three officers fired shots at the victim resulting in his death.

LaFleur’s aunt, Janet Page Andersen described her nephew as having a “lifetime of trouble” and said he did not like taking his medication because it left him feeling “dumbed down” (a rather common concern people experience) (quoted in Doucette 2016). Andersen also described LaFleur as a “sensitive, joyful person” who was loved by many people, despite the struggles he endured (quoted in Doucette, 2016). She reflected on her nephew in these terms: “He’s a sensitive, joyful person and who loved nature and trusted people” (quoted in Laucius 2016).

Sadly emblematic of his caring nature, LaFleur may have been killed while trying to help a friend. According to Andersen, the family believes Devon LaFleur travelled to Toronto in the first place because he wanted to comfort a female friend who was staying in a women’s shelter (Laucius 2016).

Malcolm LaFleur, traveled to Toronto and spent Saturday scouring the area where police killed his son in a desperate effort to find out information about the lethal confrontation that left his son dead. According to Andersen: “My brother is devastated. Police aren’t telling him anything” (quoted in Doucette 2016).

Unconfirmed reports by police suggested that LaFleur had earlier robbed a bank in Ottawa. His father had told police that he had no weapon but an air gun and made clear it was not a real firearm. According to Andersen: “He has had a hard time of it. But he had an air gun. He was not a dangerous man” (quoted in Doucette 2016).

A lover of nature and the outdoors, LaFleur had recently visited the West Coast and was looking to move to Vancouver Island with his father. Images he posted online showed photos of seals, seabirds, and himself hugging a massive tree. On his Facebook page he described himself as a “lost boy” (Doucette 2016).

Further Reading

Doucette, Chris. 2016. “SIU Investigating after Man Shot by Cops.” Toronto Sun. March 5. http://www.torontosun.com/2016/03/05/siu-investigating-after-man-shot-by-cops

Laucius, Joanne E. 2016. “Ottawa Man Reported Missing Friday Was Shot Dead by Toronto Police.” Toronto Sun. March 5. http://www.ottawasun.com/2016/03/05/ottawa-man-reported-missing-friday-was-shot-dead-by-toronto-police