Observant commentators have suggested that police actually operate like a gang, closing ranks unquestioningly to support their own no matter how egregious the member’s actions may have been. While there is some truth in this, police are not quite like gangs in that they lack the honor of gangs who at least have some limits, some acts they will not tolerate among members. If anyone needs a case in point they need only look at the dubious activities of the Ottawa Police Association and Ottawa police officers in response to the killing of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somalian-Canadian man suffering mental distress who was beaten to death by Constable Daniel Montsion in July of 2016. Montsion had previously expressed a problem with a suspect who was Somalian.
On Wednesday, March 29, 2017, the first day of preliminary court procedures leading to Montsion’s trial for manslaughter, several Ottawa police officers wore blue and black rubber wristbands stating “United We Stand #1998.” The number printed on the band is actually Montsion’s badge number. The rubber band bracelets are being sold for $2 apiece with the money going to the Ottawa Police Association.
This open show of support for a killer cop whose brutal beating of the defenseless man was partly caught on video is a tasteless and provocative move in a context that is already heated and where community members have mobilized against racist policing. It is an arrogant move that is clearly an attempt to put pressure on the court even as police say they do not comment on cases before the courts.
Incredibly the cops are using the excuse that it is a measure to address the trauma officers face on the job. This is part of a growing campaign to pose police crimes as primarily being about traumas for officers who then need more public money and resources for support. Some paid “criminologists” are being mustered to lend a veneer of credibility to the trauma money appeals led by police associations. Those same bought “criminologists” show little to no regard for the victims of police violence.
A spokesperson for the Justice for Abdirahman Abdi campaign, William Felepchuk, calls the bracelets an “outrage.” He notes that the nature of the crime Monsion is accused of is severe and suggest the move is an interference in the criminal justice process. Felepchuk further notes that police would not be so welcoming of civilians wearing such arm bands in cases of someone accused of killing a police officer.
Police always have pressures, both overt like the arm bands and covert like implied non-cooperation with prosecution, to apply on broader criminal justice processes. One should not expect anything resembling justice from the state in its dealings with killer cops.
Quebec’s Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI) and Montreal police are investigating after a lengthy standoff in Châteauguay ended with the death of a 61-year-old man early in the morning of Friday, March 24, 2017. Police had surrounded the residence on Rossini Street in what they claim was a standoff beginning apparently around 9 AM Wednesday, March 22. A bailiff had called local police to report being confronted by a man inside and they claim to have secured a perimeter upon arrival. Sûreté du Québec (SQ) took over the scene around 8 PM Wednesday.
SQ report that they heard gunshots from inside the house at around 1:30 AM on Friday. Entering, in their report, 12 minutes later they claim to have found the man’s body inside the house. The SQ’s SWAT team as well as investigators from the provincial force’s major crime squad, those trained in crisis negotiations, were reportedly on the scene but there has been no confirmation of whether they communicated with the victim at any point. The various police accounts have not been independently confirmed.
On March 22, 2017 trial began for killer Sureté du Quebec (SQ) officer Eric Deslauriers in the killing of 17-year-old David Lacour in Ste. Adele, Quebec on January 22, 2014. Deslauriers shot and killed Lacour after apparently responding to a call about a stolen car. The prosecution argues that Deslauriers shot the teenager rather than have him escape.
It is exceedingly rare for police officers who kill civilians to be subjected to any punishment. Charges are almost never laid and full trials virtually never held. Killer cops are certainly treated to a different, and decidedly favorable response, from the criminal justice system than are civilians who kill. This is in no way surprising. As we have documented repeatedly, the state protects its officers. And there should be no illusions that the state would deliver anything resembling justice in such cases of state (police) violence.
The story of oversight of police forces and investigations into police harm to civilians in Canada has been consistently one of obstruction, intimidation, harassment, non-cooperation, and silencing by police toward investigative bodies and officials. This has been the case in every province that has an investigative body tasked with examining instances of police harm to civilians.
In British Columbia the situation has been so dire that the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) has had to take the extraordinary step of filing a legal petition against Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer and seven officers for not cooperating with the IIO investigation into the fatal police shooting of Daniel Peter Rintoul on November 10, 2016. This is not the only case that the IIO has been stonewalled on or otherwise faced non-cooperation from police forces in the province. The IIO has previously noted problems with police not following proper procedures or providing information in a timely manner.
Another case of the VPD killing a civilian under even more questionable circumstances in which the force has not provided information to the public or the victim’s family and has frustrated the IIO investigation involves the killing of Myles Gray in 2015. Officers involved in that killing, in which Gray was beaten to death while confined in a backyard, are not cooperating with the IIO. The Gary family has been forced to file suit against the city and police to find some answers.
Not surprisingly the police association, a reactionary force, has responded to the IIO complaints with attempts to discredit the investigative body and undermine its (already limited) work. Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union and the BC Police Association has whined publicly about IIO interviews because, incredibly, officer could be incriminated (as if police have any qualms about their own interview techniques which are infinitely more forceful). Even more pathetic Stamatakis has complained publicly that the IIO investigators refer to investigations as murder investigations or homicide investigations. But the killing of a human, by cops or otherwise, is by simple definition a homicide. And there is little concern by Stamatakis that police use such terms in their investigations. Perhaps they will stop.
All of this is a continuation of police tactics of intimidation, harassment, obstruction, and interference with investigations by oversight bodies in Canadian contexts. It is one reason that there is no real independent oversight of and accountability for police in any province in Canada.
There have been a large number of incidents of police driving at high speeds and/or in reckless fashion resulting in the deaths of uninvolved civilians over the last few years across Canada. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians has concluded that no criminal charges will be brought against an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer in relation to the high speed police chase that resulted in the death of pedestrian Grace Glofcheskie in Guelph, Ontario in 2015. This despite the SIU investigation finding that the officer’s driving was “objectively dangerous” and his vehicle was in excess of 68 km/h over the posted speed limit at times during the chase.
The officer was pursuing an SUV whose driver was attempting to avoid a RIDE (drinking and driving) spot check on December 13, 2015. The chase went through Guelph’s downtown area. At its conclusion the SUV driver lost control, crossing onto a sidewalk and flipping. Grace Glofcheskie, who was walking home after visiting friends, was struck by the SUV. She was taken to hospital but died of her injuries. The SUV was later identified as stolen.
The SIU reported that it had assigned seven investigators, two forensic investigators, and one collision reconstructionist to the case. Six police officers and six civilians were interviewed for the investigation. The officer being investigated did not participate, nor did he provide a copy of his notes. This is a contentious part of SIU investigations, as police are legally allowed to withhold their notes, one which has been challenged by critics of the SIU and oversight procedures in Ontario.
There are some questions raised by the SIU report. Notably their conclusion not to bring any charges against the officer despite finding that his driving had been “objectively dangerous” in their words and the speeds of more than 68 km/h over the posted speed limit reached by the officer. The SIU explanation is also rather perplexing. It states: “However, the factual context does not allow me to conclude that the driving amounted to a marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person in the same situation as the officer would have exercised in the circumstances” (SIU Release). It is hard to see how a civilian driving at such speeds over the posted limit and in an “objectively dangerous” manner would be viewed as so reasonable and would avoid charges. Indeed it is shown time and again that civilian drivers under less dangerous circumstances are charged.
This project has been primarily focused on formal, state, policing agencies and officers and their killings of civilians. Yet more and more policing is carried out by private forces, especially security guard services. And like the state policing forces their members kill. Yet private security is largely unregulated in Canada and have much leeway to act in unaccountable and largely unreported ways.
An Edmonton security guard, Sheldon Russell Bentley (35) is currently seeking bail after being charged with manslaughter and robbery for kicking an Edmonton man, Donald Doucette (51), to death and then robbing him.. Doucette, a culinary chef, was found in an alley next to the Lucky 97 grocery store in the afternoon of July 31, 2016. An autopsy showed Doucette died of blunt abdominal trauma.
Doucette had apparently passed out in the alley in before being approached by two security guards, one of whom was Sheldon Bentley. The charges claim Bentley kicked the passed out victim and stole $20 from him. The guards then simply went back to work.
Doucette’s has been struggling with alcohol for some time, a problem that family members say began in response to the death of his own father. He had been going to Alcoholics Anonymous as well as starting a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. In addition Doucette struggled with epilepsy. His family often worried that that he would fall down and have a seizure in a non-supportive environment.
Security guards exist only to protect private property and profits. They have no special mandate to act in public space.
As a range of private security forces take over urban space (from security guards to business association “ambassadors”) more attention must be given to them. And their actions must be increasingly observed and challenged. Some have taken to Cop Watch like counter-patrols of security guards and private security.
An inquest into the killing of Naverone Woods has begun in Burnaby, British Columbia on March 20, 2017. Woods, a 23-year-old Gitxsan man, was shot and killed by a Metro Vancouver Transit Police officer in Surrey, British Columbia in December 2014. This case has generated much concern and organized protest but few answers for grieving family members. The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), which investigates cases of police harm to civilians in the province, earlier reported that Woods was shirtless and suffering from self-inflicted knife wounds when police, including the transit police officer, encountered him inside a Safeway grocery store in the Whalley neighborhood in Surrey. The transit officer then fired her gun striking and killing Woods. She was cleared by the IIO in may 2016. The Metro Vancouver Transit Police are the first armed transit force in Canada.
The inquest, heard by presiding coroner Brynne Redford and a jury, has no power to attribute wrongdoing or recommend charges. They will examine evidence around the killing of Woods and make recommendations that they have no mechanism to enforce on police.
Family and friends have consistently referred to Naverone Woods as gentle, caring, and helpful.