Monthly Archives: February 2017

Investigation into Death of 20-Year-Old Man in RCMP Custody

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) is investigating a strange set of circumstances that ended in the death of a 20-year-old man in RCMP custody near Goodfare, Alberta (near Grande Prairie) on February 11, 2017. A young man supposedly breaks into a home. Was the owner home? Police enter the home after receiving permission from the owner. They reportedly find the young man who supposedly broke in resting on a couch. He supposedly picks up a nearby gun before police interact with him. Police claim they then simply left the home. Supposed attempts to contact the man again are said to be unanswered. When police re-enter the house they claim they find the man’s dead body.

Because the man died while the house was under control of police officers, it is registered as an in-custody death. It has not been independently confirmed that police fired no shots from any gun (police firearms or other).


Killer Cops Patrick Bulger and Mathieu Boudreau Get Off as Judge Tosses Manslaughter Charges

New Brunswick Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman has played the part often played by the courts in protecting killer cops by throwing out all charges charges against Constable Patrick Bulger and Constable Mathieu Boudreau in the killing of Michel Vienneau (51) in 2015. Vienneau was shot and killed in his vehicle outside the train station in Bathurst, NB on January 12, 2015.  Bulger (38) and Boudreau (26) had each faced charges of manslaughter with a weapon, assault with a weapon, and unlawfully pointing a firearm.

Judge Dugas-Horsman simply ruled in provincial court on February 24, 2017, that the prosecution failed to make their case in a preliminary hearing. No other details were released. Instead the judge blandly stated: “It is my ruling … you are both discharged of all charges” (quoted in Bissett 2017). Bulger’s lawyer suggested the killing was an accident, but as in most of these cases the killings are intentional (and avoidable), not accidents at all.

The situation that led to Vienneau’s killing was another matter of the murderous drug war in Canada and involved the rather trivial issue of suspected possession of illegal drugs. The police constables were investigating, on an unclear basis beyond an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip, whether Vienneau and his common-law partner held illegal drugs following a trip to Montreal. No one should die, and certainly no one should be judicially executed by the state over drug possession.

Even more outrageously and pathetically, an RCMP investigation found that Vienneau was not involved in any criminal activity. He was quite literally executed by officers Bulger and Boudreau for nothing.

Vienneau’s partner was in the vehicle and witnessed the shooting, In a civil lawsuit she claims that Vienneau’s death was solely caused by police negligence.

Further Reading

Bissett, Kevin. 2017. “Judge Ends Manslaughter Case Against N.B. Police Officers in Shooting.” Canadian Press. February 24. http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/judge-ends-manslaughter-case-against-n-b-police-officers-in-shooting-1.3299437


Family of Tony Divers, Hamilton Man Killed by Police, Raises Concerns Over Investigations into the Killing

The lack of effective and independent oversight of police is an ongoing issue in the Canadian context. This is true even where supposedly independent investigations units exist provincially. In every case investigations are impeded by police harassment, non-cooperation, and/or intimidation. In addition their is no mechanism to force police to comply with or adhere to investigation procedures. In many cases investigating agencies have connections with police forces, including dependence of police for their own training. This all means that there is no proper oversight of police in Canada and families are often doubly victimized, first by the taking of a loved one by police and then by a process that excludes them and lacks efficiency and transparency.

One issue being raised by families of victims of police killings in Ontario is with the slow pace of investigations and the lack of information provided publicly and to families. This has been a concern for the main police oversight body in the province, the Special Investigations Unit (considered the gold standard globally, which says plenty)

Growing attention and increasing public outcry in Canada over police killings of civilians has led to an independent review of police oversight in Ontario. One issue examined is the matter of public release of information from SIU investigations. The final report from Justice Michael Tulloch on police oversight in Ontario is slated to be released in March.

The family of Tony Divers (36) has been waiting for answers since their loved one was shot and killed by Hamilton Police on September 30, 2016. The family says it was told that forensics and toxicology work was done in December but it could still take several months several months before the SIU release any information about the investigation. Incredibly, in the meantime, Edward Divers, the victim’s brother, was arrested on an old warrant when he attended a Police Services Board meeting and raised questions about the killing of his brother. This has been viewed as a punitive act of harassment by police.

Police have said they were responding to a call when they targeted Divers. Yet no details have been released about the call or who made it. In addition police have claimed the victim had a gun, yet there is no evidence available that suggests any gun, or any other weapon, was present at the scene apart from police weapons. At least one witness has said that Divers did not have any gun at the scene.

The family says Divers was struggling with mental health issues at the time police killed him. The use of lethal force by police against people experiencing mental health crises has become a too common situation in Canada. So too is the stonewalling of family requests for basic information and insight into the police killings of their loved ones.

Karyn Greenwood-Graham, whose son was killed by Waterloo Police almost a decade ago, points to what she calls the “police culture” that dominates throughout the SIU. In her words: “What we have seen is a lack of support, a lack of respect, a lack of acknowledgement to the families who have lost a loved one, a son, a brother” (quoted in Bennett 2017). Greenwood-Graham organizes with the Affected Families of Police Homicide provides solidarity and support for families of victims of police killings of civilians

The slow process of investigations raises questions about transparency and credibility. It also leaves families in turmoil, harming their health and well being.

 

Further Reading

Bennett, Kelly. 2017. “Family of Man Shot by Hamilton Police Frustrated by SIU Decision.” CBC News. February 23. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/family-of-man-shot-by-hamilton-police-frustrated-by-wait-for-siu-decision-1.3996304


Investigation into Police Killing of Man in Winnipeg (February 12, 2017)

The Independent Investigations Unit (IIU), the oversight body that examines police killings of civilians in Manitoba, is investigating after police killed a man they had taken into custody in the evening of February 12, 2017. Winnipeg police officers attended a home in Garden City after supposedly receiving reports of a disturbance there in the late evening. One man in the house said he wanted another man removed from the residence and police took the other man into custody to remove him. According to police some type of struggle ensured and the prisoner was injured fatally. Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Services was contacted and the victim was taken to Seven Oaks Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Independently confirmed details of the killing have not been released publicly. Neither has the name of the victim.


Amleset Haile Identified as Woman Killed by Toronto Police

The woman killed by Toronto police on January 2, 2017 has been identified as Amleset Haile. The 60 year-old native of Ethiopia was living at a home on St. Clarens Avenue, a Houselink home for people with mental health and addiction issues, when police killed her. Amleset Haile’s name has only been released publicly now. While the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency responsible for investigating cases of civilians harmed by police in Ontario, is investigating the killing it has not released her name.

Police arrived at the home near Bloor and Lansdowne Streets in west Toronto at 4:45 AM on January 2 in response to a report of an emotionally distraught woman threatening suicide. Only 15 minutes later, about 5 AM, Amleset Haile was wheeled out on a stretcher, not moving, her neck held in a brace. The woman would die two  days later in hospital after being taken off of life support.

Many questions remain unanswered in the month following her death at the hands of police. And family, friends, and neighbors want answers. Among the questions are why a home for people with mental health issues sis not have trained staff available to assist a distraught woman. Another question concerns why such a home would call police first rather than health care providers. Other questions involve what exactly police did to the woman and why and how did she sustain severe trauma to her body within 15 minutes of police activity. The SIU has not confirmed any police claims about the incident.

Friend Jennifer Cox witnessed part of the incident and believes Haile was in fear and running from police. She does not believe the frail woman was strong enough to lift herself up to jump from a window or balcony. Cox, like others, wonders if the situation involving her friend could have ended differently had a mental health caregiver  been called and responded instead of police.

The Toronto Police Department does have Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCIT), roving units made up of a specially trained police officer and a mental-health nurse. Despite repeated recommendations and calls coming from coroner’s inquests these crisis teams are not available 24-hours a day. And none are available between 11 PM and 6 AM, what can be desperate overnight hours.

In the view of Steve Lurie, executive director of the Toronto branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, there should be an expansion of hours of specialized mental health units. As he puts it: “If the call was ‘we think someone is suicidal,’ it makes more sense to bring mental health professionals to bear if they are available” (quoted in Gillis 2017).

On the whole far more resources should be put into independent mental health sources and resources in cities across Canada. Yet public funding is overwhelmingly given to police departments, at the expense of mental health care, harm reduction, support services, health care services for poor people, etc. Police departments continue to  make up the greatest part of city budgets while mental health funding and resources are slashed.

Amleset Haile is remembered by friends and the community organizations she was active in as generous, caring, and kind. She contributed to her communities through groups like Houselink and Sistering, a group for homeless and poor women in Toronto.

 

Further Reading

Gillis, Wendy. 2017. “Friends Seek Answers as SIU Probes Death of 60-Year-Old Toronto Woman.” Toronto Star. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/02/20/friends-seek-answers-as-siu-probes-death-of-60-year-old-toronto-woman.html


Acclaimed Artist Moses Amik Beaver Found Dead in Thunder Bay Jail

The family of influential artist Moses Amik Beaver is demanding answers after their loved one was found dead in his cell at the Thunder Bay Jail on Monday, February 13, 2017. The 59-year-old Beaver struggled with mental health issues and those close to him want to know why he was being held in jail and not a health care facility. Jails in Canada are too often used by the state as holding centers for Indigenous people in need of health care not punishment, even well after health care issues have been identified.

Local Indigenous leaders, including Johnny Yellowhead, chief of the Nibinamik (Summer Beaver) band in northwestern Ontario, where Moses Beaver’s family lived has called for a full public examination into Beaver’s death and what might have been done to help him. He could not say why Beaver was in custody but reported that he had expressed concern about depression and blackouts.

In a prepared statement released Thursday, February 16, 2017, Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski First Nation said:

“The sudden and unexplained death of Moses Beaver was devastating to his family and everyone in Nibinamik. For Moses to die under these circumstances is troubling on so many levels, especially as his death has not been officially acknowledged by those responsible for his care. We are doing everything possible to support Chief and Council and the family of Moses Beaver, and we will demand an investigation into the circumstances around his passing.” (quoted in Talaga and Edwards 2017b).

Said Chief Yellowhead: “Our dear friend Moses Beaver had struggled for many years with mental health issues but we do not understand why he was in custody or the circumstances that led to his death. It is clear that Moses needed professional help and a psychiatric assessment, and we demand to know why this didn’t happen” (quoted in Talaga and Edwards 2017b).

Thunder Bay art gallery owner JP Fraser remembers the artists whose work his gallery has featured: “He was a very gentle person. He was a very warm, welcoming, outgoing and caring man. His painting skills will be a great loss to the artistic community. And what a waste of a life. He should have had treatment” (quoted in Talaga and Edwards 2017a).

Fraser identified the Thunder Bay Jail as the wrong place to hold someone with mental illness (a fact clear to many except police it seems). In his view: “It is just not a place for someone with mental-health issues” (quoted in Talaga and Edwards 2017a). One issue that emerges in city after city in Canada is that mental health services and funding are insufficient while police budgets continue to increase even as crime rates drop.

This point is emphasized by Johnny Yellowhead: “I wish there was better health care. He wanted to get better. He asked me to help” (quoted in Talaga and Edwards 2017a).

Thunder Bay Police and jail officials have refused to comment on either why Beaver was being held in custody or on the circumstances of his death. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services confirmed that there was a death in the jail on Monday but would not say more.

The Thunder Bay Jail is already quite notorious in the Canadian context. It is the very facility where Indigenous youth Adam Capay (23) was held in solitary confinement for more than four years before public pressure pushed provincial authorities to change his conditions.

Moses Amik Beaver painted in the vivid Woodlands style associated with Ojibwe artist Norval Morrisseau. He was well known for his depictions of spirits and animals, painted in vivid colors and outlined in black. He was also very much appreciated for his work with children in local schools.

 

Further Reading

Talaga, Tanya and Peter Edwards. 2017a. “First Nations Artist Dies in Thunder Bay Jail and Days Later Grieving Sister Killed in Car Crash.” Toronto Star. February 15. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/02/15/first-nations-artist-dies-in-thunder-bay-jail.html

Talaga, Tanya and Peter Edwards. 2017b. “First Nations Leaders Demand Investigation into Moses Amik Beaver’s Death.” Toronto Star. February 16.   https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/02/16/collision-kills-sister-of-first-nations-artist-moses-amik-beaver.html


BC Coroner Announces 2017 Public Inquest into Police Killing of Naverone Woods

The BC Coroners Service has announced that it will hold a public inquest into the death of Naverone Christian Landon Woods, a young Gitxsan man shot and killed by police in Surrey, British Columbia in 2014. The killing of the 23-year-old Woods, of Hazelton, has generated much concern and some pubic outcry and protest but few answers or information (such as names of officers involved) despite an investigation by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) the (non-independent) provincial oversight body that examines cases of police killings of civilians in BC.

What has been reported is that Naverone Woods entered a Safeway grocery store in the Whalley area in north Surrey, near the Skytrain, around 8 AM on December 28, 2014. Customers and staff either at the grocery store or a nearby convenience store reportedly called 911. Two officers from the Metro Vancouver Transit Police, an armed transit force, the first of its kind in Canada, entered the store and in the ensuing encounter one officer shot and killed Woods. The victim was taken to Royal Columbia Hospital in New Westminster, BC where he died shortly upon arrival.

The inquest will be see evidence presented to presiding coroner Brynne Redford and a jury. Testimony will be taken from witnesses under oath. Members of the public can make presentations. The focus will be on establishing facts of the killing and making recommendations but these have no binding power or authority.

The inquest into the police killing of Naverone Woods is scheduled to begin on March 20, 2017 at 9:30 AM. It will be held at Burnaby Coroners Court, 20th floor, MetroTower II, Metrotown, 4720 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC.