Six years after Brian Gray, 39, was killed by members of the Ontario Provincial Police Emergency Response Team at Whitefish Bay on the Lac Seul First Nation in Northern Ontario, the jury in the coroner’s inquest into his killing has released its recommendations. These show both the delay in responding to police killings in Canada as well as the limited framework for addressing police violence and lethal force.
The coroner’s inquest noted that officers took more than four hours to each the residence at Whitefish Bay after the initial call was made reporting an incident at the home, May 9, 2010. This became notable for the jury because by the time the Emergency Response Team arrived the situation had escalated well beyond the incident that gave rise to the call to police. Indeed Gray had taken time to leave the site of the initial incident on at least one occasion returning to his own home before returning.
According to the initial report of the provincial police oversight body, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) Gray had actually released a hostage right before police responded by shooting him several times killing him. He apparently gave out a large scream right before he was shot but one would hope this did not startle officers causing a panicked response. Gray was still conscious after being shot and police handcuffed him before taking him to an ambulance. He died at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre. In any event the SIU, not surprisingly, determined that the police execution of Gray was justified. They cleared three OPP officers involved in killing Gray.
The coroner’s inquest jury found that Brian Gray was killed died as a result of multiple “gunshot wounds to the torso” (Porter 2016). The jury ruled Gray’s death to be a homicide. In this context the ruling means that the death is “a result of the purposeful actions of another person and does not carry any criminal connotations” (Porter 2016).
The jury made 18 recommendations with regard to the inquiry in Gray’s killing and these did recognize the problems within the O.P.P in terms of aboriginal awareness and interactions with indigenous civilians. As is disproportionately the case in incidents of lethal police violence against civilians the person killed is experiencing a mental health issue that finds a response not in care but in policing. Among the 18 recommendations issued by the jury are these:
“Options for more effective tactical response should be explored, including but not limited to enhanced Emergency Response Team (ERT) training, upgrading the North Western Region ERT team to level 2 Tactical capabilities, and placing a Tactics and Rescue unit (TRU) team in Northern Ontario.
The OPP should ensure that all members working with aboriginal communities and people receive Aboriginal Awareness Training that should be updated when necessary.
When OPP Officers are deployed in a location where they might be expected to attend on a First Nation, they should attend and be familiarized with that First Nation soon after being deployed to that Detachment.
When a critical incident occurs, an individual or individuals should be identified by Lac Seul First Nation to liaise between the police, First Nation and family of the subject, for the purpose of improving communication, and keeping the families informed of the progress of an incident.
Lac Seul First Nation should receive funding to hire a certified mental health counsellor, to hire and train additional mental health workers, to train its existing mental health workers, and to increase awareness of mental health issues and to initiate early intervention within the community.” (Porter 2016)
None of the recommendations from a coroner’s inquest are binding.
Porter, Jodie. 2016. “Police Killed Northern Ontario First Nation Man, Inquest Jury Concludes.” CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/police-shooting-lac-seul-first-nation-1.3579724