Police violence against indigenous people and communities remains the ongoing practice of settler colonialism within the Canadian state context. This includes lethal force. Yet systemic racism and colonialism are rarely addressed in investigations of police violence. Many officers are oblivious to the colonial histories of their own institutions. Many have no understanding of colonialism at all.
On Wednesday, April 6, 2016, Sandy Tarzan Michel, 25, was shot by police on a small Algonquin reserve in Lac-Simon in Abitibi-Témiscamingue about 500 kilometres northwest of Montréal. Shockingly, reports suggest the young man was first struck by a police cruiser and later shot several times by police. According to provincial police Sgt. Benoit Coutu, officers from the Lac-Simon force were responding to reports of a man allegedly brandishing a knife as he was walking in public (Canadian Press 2016).
Sadly Sandy Tarzan Michel is not the first member of his family to be killed by police. In January 2009 his brother, Johnny Junior Michel Dumont, only 19, was shot and killed by police in Lac-Simon. Strangely police also said that Dumont was holding a knife at the time they killed him.
The community, which has been subjected to police violence, confronted local police and tried to stop the entry of provincial police, the Sûreté du Québec, who were called to assist the local force. Residents apparently blocked the entrance of police vehicles. Three people were arrested by the police at the scene.
SQ spokesperson Sergeant Daniel Thibodeau used these words to describe the situation: “It’s a high emotion type of situation that this community is not used to dealing with … Incidents from the past have carried over so there’s a bit of a build of tension” (quoted in Shingler 2016). It is not likely that the “incidents from the past” referred to be Thibodeau include ongoing practices of systemic racism and colonialism.
Unlike in other provinces, including Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario, there is no independent unit to investigate incidents in which police officers injure or kill civilians. Instead another police force is asked to investigate in such cases. In response to the killing of Sandy Tarzan Michel, Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux initially tasked provincial police with conducting the investigation into the situation resulting in this killing. This was surprising given that members of the Lac-Simon force had been n communication with provincial police the evening of the killing and had come to the assistance of the local force. The Sûreté du Québec had sent a dozen officers to lend a hand to the local force (CBC News 2016). Responsibility for the investigation was finally moved to the Montréal police force. In any event few would suspect a thorough and critical review into the case by any fellow force.
Community Not Cops
Provincial police have been given supervision of the territory as the investigations move forward. Incredibly the SQ asked members of the press to stay away from Lac-Simon while they investigate (CBC News 2016). Around 1,200 people live in the town.
The police officers’ association in Lac-Simon has taken advantage of the killings to call for still more policing resources in the area and has blamed what they call a “public security crisis” in the community. Yet community members refer instead to a public health crisis and speak to issues of health, economic inequality, and harm reduction.
Michel’s family has relied on the support and care of people in the small community after having two loved ones taken from them by police in strikingly similar fashion. They report that many have reached out to contact and support the family.
According to Judith Brazeau, the partner of Michel’s father: “We are living with our pain. We help each other a lot. If someone is hurting, there is always someone there” (quoted in Northcott and Laframboise 2016).
In a public show of support for the family and anger at the police violence inflicted on their community, around 100 people marched Friday afternoon, April 8, to protest the circumstances surrounding Michel’s killing by police.
Canadian Press. 2016. “Man Dies after Being Shot by Police on Algonquin Reserve in Quebec.” Metro. April 7. http://www.metronews.ca/news/canada/2016/04/07/man-shot-by-police-during-intervention-in-northern-quebec-community-dies.html
CBC News. 2016. “Lac-Simon Police Officer Fatally Shoots Man.” CBC News. April 6. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/lac-simon-shot-dead-1.3524409
Northcott, Alison and Kalina Laframboise. 2016. “Lac-Simon Victim’s Brother Was Also Fatally Shot by Police.” CBC News. April 8. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/lac-simon-police-death-shooting-brothers-1.3526783
Shingler, Benjamin. 2016. “Tensions High in Lac-Simon after Fatal Police Shooting.” CBC News. April 7. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/lac-simon-surete-du-quebec-sandy-tarzan-michel-1.3524635