Police in Canada have a horrendous history of killing civilians dealing with mental health issues. Too often police interaction with someone experiencing mental illness or distress results in a quick deployment of often lethal force. The police solution to mental illness is death. And even more police can count on investigations units and prosecutors to use the victims’ mental health against them in deciding not to charge officers who kill quickly. Identities of officers not charge remain undisclosed leaving families without even the names (or ironically without knowledge of the personal histories, including past killings) of the officers who killed their loved ones. Often families of people killed by police in Canada are forced to file lawsuits simply to receive disclosure of basic information about the killing of their family members.
On Thursday, February 9, 2017, the family of Phuong Na Du, Tony Du, a Vancouver man shot and killed by police in November of 2014 launched a civil suit against the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department officer involved in the shooting. Pivot Legal, a local civil rights law group, announced the lawsuit right after the Crown prosecutor announced that the Vancouver police officer who killed Du would not be charged.
Tony Du experienced, who experienced schizophrenia, was killed by police after officers arrived on the scene at Knight Street near East 41st Street. Witnesses reported seeing the victim appearing distraught and waving a two-by-four. Du was shot by one officer and hit with a bean bag round fired by another and died in hospital of the injuries inflicted by police. Police explained the decision to shoot by saying the man would not immediately comply with officers’ orders. Failure to immediately comply is too often viewed by police as an invitation to shoot and a license to kill. And investigations and prosecutors reinforce this arrogant view by refusing to bring charges against cops who kill under such circumstances.
The provincial oversight body, the Independent Investigations Office (which is not truly independent of police an trains through the police training center, the Justice Institute of British Columbia) investigated the killing and submitted its report to the Crown in the fall of 2016. That report disclosed that DU was shot and killed a mere 18 to 25 seconds after police arrived on the scene. This calls entirely into question, indeed refutes, the police claim that the victim had time to understand and respond to officers’ orders. This short time frame was neither long enough to start a conversation with Du nor enough time to assess his mental state or intentions. Pivot Legal lawyer Douglas King suggests that the police undertook instead “a very intense and rapid escalation” one that raises some “serious concerns” (quoted in CBC 2017).
Crown prosecutors are almost uniformly reluctant to charge officers given their need to work with police on cases and the perceived impact a lack of police cooperation could have on their career trajectory. So it was in no way surprising that the Criminal Justice Branch in British Columbia released a statement saying that the evidence gathered did not meet the criteria for approval of charges in connection with the police shooting death of Tony Du. Said the Crown, grimly, of the killer cop in this case: “He continued firing until the suspect was no longer a threat” (quoted in CBC 2017).
Indeed. And no charges result.
CBC. 2017. “Family of Mentally Ill Man Shot by Vancouver Police Sues City.” CBC News. February 9. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/tony-du-vancouver-police-civil-suit-1.3975168