In the short span of one day, a mere 24 hours, in early October 2016, police in Québec killed three people who were experiencing some type of mental distress, including at least two where the victims were believed to be suicidal.
On Sunday evening of October 2 the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) responded to a phone call apparently from a man in Île-Perrot threatening to kill himself. Upon encountering the man, shortly after arrival on scene, police fired several shots, killing the man.
Later that same night, at about 9:45 PM, the Eeyou Eenou Police in Chirasibi, a Cree community in northern Québec were dispatched on a call about an 18-year-old youth spotted outside his home apparently with a gun. While officers engaged the man he supposedly shot himself.
Monday night, October 3, SQ in Rouyn-Noranda responded to a call concerning a naked man apparently showing some distress but in front of his own home. Police, for undisclosed reasons, decided to subdue the man using pepper spray, which is well known to cause panic and agitation rather than quiet compliance. The police then moved to the brutal measure of batons. Clearly a curious choice for interacting with a distressed naked person at his own house, posing no threat to the public. The man died during the assault by police due to as yet unreleased causes.
The Bureau des enquêtes indépendentes du Quebec (BEI), the new agency that examines all cases of police harm to civilians in the province, has deployed 18 investigators to examine the three killings over 24 hours in early October. The bureau has already investigated eight fatal events, police killing civilians, since becoming operational only in June 2016.
Québec Police Killing People in Distress
A 2015 study led by Annie Gendron, of the École nationale de police du Québec looked at 143 investigations carried out between 2006 and 2010 involving police harm to civilians at the request of the Québec Public Security Department. The study found that around 80 percent of cases requiring investigation where police harmed or killed civilians involved victims “in an altered state of consciousness” (Feith 2016). These were said by police to involve either mental health issues or intoxication, which were lumped together, or a combination of both.
Most of the interactions with police were notably of only short duration suggesting little time was taken to communicate, assess needs, or provide some form of care. Police do not engage in dialogue and do not make hospital referrals in enough cases. Often police seem to have a mistaken understanding about the nature of the call according to the Québec study. And they lack proper training.
To its great discredit the study suggested that one in four of the cases was “suicide by cop” an unsubstantiated, generally dismissed explanation that has no scientific basis and is typically used by police to justify their killings of civilians under dubious circumstances. The fact that someone would reasonably expect police to kill them as an outcome of a call for help and assistance perhaps speaks volumes.
Smaller departments claim not to have enough resources to provide basic mental health training for officers. Police interventions against people in mental health distress has become the neoliberal form of mental health care in Canada as mental health resources and services have been cut at the same time as police budgets are increased.
Feith, Jesse. 2016. “Spate of Fatal Incidents Sparks Investigations by Quebec’s Police-Oversight Bureau.” Montreal Gazette. October 4. http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/for-third-time-this-week-a-death-during-a-police-intervention-will-be-investigated