Police killings of people apparently experiencing mental distress or ill health are becoming an all too regular occurrence in the Canadian state context. Indeed, numerous studies and inquiries note the alarming numbers of people dealing with mental health issues who are being set upon and killed by police forces at all levels and across the country. It is also true that these killings are taking place even as report after report calls for improved training for police in understanding and responding to people dealing with mental health issues, training in non-lethal interventions and suitable equipment, and most importantly alternatives to police in situations involving mental health emergencies. Still police are sent to intervene against people in distress and still people continue to be killed by those police.
On Monday, April 25, 2016, a 63-year-old man, identified as André Benjamin, was both tasered and fatally shot by Montréal police in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood. The victim was shot by police around 8 AM during a police intervention a few blocks away from the city’s iconic Olympic Stadium. He was taken to hospital where he was declared deceased. According to police reports, the Montréal police were called to an apartment block at Ontario Street and Sicard Street regarding someone in apparent psychological distress. The call was reportedly made by a family member of the victim (CBC News 2016).
Poignantly, the police shooting of André Benjamin comes a mere six weeks after a coroner’s report was delivered in the police killing of Alain Magloire, another resident of the city who was killed by police while suffering mental distress. Magloire was shot and killed by police two years ago near the city’s bus station (CBC News 2016). The coroner’s report did recommend the use of stun guns rather than service firearms by police but also called for more extensive and better training for officers in appropriate dealing with people experiencing mental health issues.
Alain Magloire’s brother, Pierre Magloire, expressed sorrow that another man has been killed by the Montréal police force. He sees training rather than equipment as key. In his words: “It makes me sad that someone, again, has been shot. It’s like I’m always asking for more [training,]. It’s not because you have a stun gun that everything will go away and everything will be fine” (quoted in CBC News 2016). The killing of André Benjamin confirms this in the most brutal terms.
As is the situation in Quebec, where there is no independent investigations unit that would examine killings by police of civilians in the province, the case has been turned over to another force, in this case the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), the provincial police force. The SQ confirmed Monday afternoon that a taser was deployed by police during the encounter. The victim was also struck by at least one bullet fired by police.
The Québec government has been criticized by the province’s Human Rights Commission for long delays in instituting an independent agency to investigate shootings, serious injuries, and deaths of civilians that involve a police officer. While the provincial government has voted to create an independent investigations unit it is yet to be operational three years after the vote was recorded (CBC News 2016).
Montréal police have a rather infamous history of lethal force. Annual day against police brutality events, held on March 15 each year, have origins in protests against the force. The protests were initiated in 1997 by the Coalition Opposed to Police Brutality and often involve direct action.
CBC News. 2016. “Man, 63, Dies after Being Shot by Montreal Police in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.” CBC News. April 25. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-police-shooting-1.3551475