Category Archives: Indigenous Victims

Police Investigating Police: Lac-Simon Officers who Killed Sandy Michel in 2016 Cleared by Montreal Police

On April 6, 2016 Lac-Simon police shot and killed 25-year-old father of three Sandy Tarzan Michel, after first hitting him with a car. On Thursday, June 15, 2017 The Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions for the province announced its decision not to lay charges against the officers responsible. The Lac-Simon force was not investigated by an independent body but  rather by Montreal police who made the recommendation, not surprisingly, not to lay charges.

Four officers had been sent to Michel’s home, in the Algonquin community of Lac-Simon in western Quebec just south of Val-d’Or, apparently in response to a domestic call. Police claim to have approached Michel on the basis that he was known to them. The police report says Michel exited his house carrying a machete but notes that officers drove into him with their police car. No statement on whether or not this is standard and sanctioned police procedure. Yet the Montreal police did suggest that it was legal activity with which the Director agreed with. When this did not give them the desired result an officer fired four shots and killed the man.

Since this investigation was begun Quebec has established an oversight body the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI, Bureau of Independent Investigations). Only two days before the Lac-Simon announcement, critics held a press conference claiming the BEI was neither transparent nor effective.


Inquest into Police Killing of Craig McDougall Sees No Racism Despite Mistreatment of Family, Eight Year Delay

Racism and policing have gone hand and hand in the Canadian context. From the settler colonial violence of the RCMP through contemporary practices from carding to assaults upon racialized people and communities. The settler colonial character of the Canadian state continues in the current context in the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of Indigenous people and the exertion of violence, often lethal violence, against them.

Not surprisingly the Canadian state and the various institutions of criminal justice have stridently denied claims of racism. Inquiries into police violence typically offer findings that diminish or deny the part of racism in police actions. Such an outcome was delivered again on May 12, 2017 with the results of the inquiry into the killing of Craig McDougall, a young Indigenous man, by Winnipeg police, a force with a long and notorious history of racist violence.

Twenty-six-year-old Craig Vincent McDougall was shot and killed by police outside his father’s home on Simcoe Street in Winnipeg on August 2, 2008. Police claimed to be responding to a 911 call when they arrived at the home in the early hours of August 2.  They suggest that found McDougall outside the house holding a cell phone and a knife. One officer shot him with a taser. He was then shot with a firearm which killed him. A private investigator who examined the case has cast doubt on the assertion that Craig McDougall held a knife at the moment he was shot.

Incredibly, the victim’s family members were immediately arrested and put in handcuffs on the front lawn, an act of what criminologists term the dramatization of evil, designed to denigrate and humiliate people targeted by the system. Jonathan Rudin, an expert witness on Indigenous people, policing, and the criminal justice system, testified that the treatment of McDougall’s family after the young man was shot exemplified systemic racism as the victims were assumed by police to be criminals and were treated as such.

Still, despite the actions of police, the inquest concluded that there was no evidence of racism in the police actions. It offered the typical statist finding that police were justified in their actions. In the inquest report, Associate Chief Judge Anne Krahn wrote there was “no evidence of racism direct or systemic in the moments leading to the shooting of Craig McDougall.” The judge found the arrest of McDougall’s father and uncle to be a simple misstep. In her words: “there were missteps in the immediate aftermath of the shooting when Craig McDougall’s uncle and father were left handcuffed and detained without lawful authority.” Such is the normalization of racism in the Canadian criminal justice system. Atrocious actions become mere missteps.

Critics point out that treating the family members in such disrespectful and accusatory fashion exemplifies racism. One might add the little regard shown for the family or the community in the eight year delay between the killing and the inquest report. It could be suggested that such an egregious delay would never be accepted in the case of a killing (by anyone) of a white, privileged victim. Of course police, and police associations, seek to delay and divert inquests to benefit their own interests.

The inquest report even contradicts its own conclusions by making recommendations that imply racism by police. Among these recommendations are that the police service should consider delivery of implicit bias training for its members at regular intervals (a recognition of racist assumptions) and work with Indigenous organizations to develop programs.


ASIRT Again Clears Cops Despite Finding “Procedural Errors” Led to Prisoner’s Death

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) the provincial body that investigates incidents of police harm to civilians in the province, is quickly developing a reputation for letting cops off on flimsy grounds when they are involved in civilian deaths.

On Friday, April 21, 2017 ASIRT announced that no officers from the Tsuut’ina Nation Police Service (TNPS) would be charged after a 25-year-old man in police custody apparently killed himself. This despite the fact that the ASIRT investigation found that the force did not follow the “specific protocols [which] were in place” for times when the man, who was known by police, was taken into police custody. According to the ASIRT ruling said “procedural errors” were made and the man was left unsupervised, which protocol said he should not have been “resulting in a sufficient amount of time to commit suicide” (ASIRT).

The man had been arrested on February 17, 2015, supposedly for intoxication and a complaint about his presence at a residence. So once again police were called to address a health care issue and the result is a civilian death.

ASIRT, which has an apparent habit of offering bogus excuses for officers and forces involved in civilian deaths, such as the dubious “excited delirium” claim, this time went one better. Their report attributed the man’s death to the vague and rather unscientific explanation of a “perfect storm” resulting in the man’s death. Surely this is clearly an ideological or copaganda mystification that excuses the officers involved for their own active choices and actions, the committing of procedural errors, and the role those played in contributing to the death. Yet the “perfect storm” means even a consideration of something like negligence is nullified. To the benefit of the police officers responsible.

ASIRT said in a statement that: “This case, however, should remind officers of the duty of care they undertake when exercising custody or control of another person” (ASIRT). Yet there is no mechanism to go beyond the occasional reminder when the investigative body keeps providing excuses to get cops off when civilians die in their custody.

Similarly,  in a statement, Chief Keith Blake of the TNPS said: “The Tsuut’ina Police remain absolutely committed to the highest levels of care for those persons in our care and custody” (Statement). Yet this case shows the lack of commitment to even basic standards of their own protocol. So one might well ask what it is they remain committed too.

 


Inquest into Vancouver Transit Police Killing of Naverone Woods (23) Begins: March 20, 2017

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.


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.


RCMP Kill Ralph Stephens on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation in Alberta (January 7, 2017)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Canada have their origins as a colonial military force. Their history is one of settlerism and class domination on an ongoing basis. They continue in the present to police and regulate and repress Indigenous communities through targeted violence. This must be remembered in any case of RCMP contact with Indigenous people and communities in Canada.

Alberta RCMP shot and killed Ralph Stephens, 27, on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation near Morley on Saturday, January 7, 2017. Stephens died in hospital about and hour after being shot. Police claim they were on the reserve to execute a warrant for first-degree murder charges related to the death of Lorenzo “Billy” Bearspaw, also 27, whose body was found on the reserve on January 6 after he was reported missing on January 3 by a family member. The other men pursued by RCMP, John Stephens, 29, and Deangelo Powderface, 22, have both been taken into custody by the force. John Stephens was arrested directly prior to the killing of Ralph Stephens. Major Crimes with assistance from the RCMP Emergency Response Team were involved.

No one has said why police opened fire on the victim. Nothing has been reported to suggest he confronted or attacked police. Police have only said that Ralph Stephens “engaged police” but this has not been corroborated by any independent sources or witnesses. Several people were said to be in the residence at which Stephens was killed when the shooting happened.

The dangerous nature of this police action and the prospect it will stoke justified anger toward RCMP are clear. Police seem concerned with dampening any response. Chief Superintendent Tony Hamori, the officer in charge of Southern Alberta made an appeal with no note of accountability or reasons for adherence: “I also urge calm in the community while the investigations take place” (quoted by Anderson 2017).

Community members describe a chaotic scene after police arrived on the scene. According to Gerald Powderface, a relative of Ralph Stephens: “My family told me it happened so quick, even my cousin was asking them ‘Have you shot my boy?’ They didn’t even answer him, they just dragged him out of the house without no shoes and they’re throwing people out of the house left and right. They didn’t even answer his question, ‘Have you shot my boy? What happened, what’s going on here?’” (quoted in Anderson 2017).

The community has come to the family’s care and support. According to Gerald Powderface: We have a community here that support each other on every matter, especially a matter like that. They all come to the house. There was a lot of people there last night when I left” (quoted in Anderson 2017).

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the agency that investigates cases of police harm to civilians in the province, is investigating the RCMP actions in killing Ralph Stephens. RCMP continue to maintain an active presence on the reserve since the shooting.

Whatever one might think about this particular case the fact remains that an historic settler colonial force built on dispossession, expropriation, and genocide continues to police Indigenous communities across Canada.

 

Further Reading

Anderson, Drew. 2017. “Man Shot by RCMP on Stoney Nakoda Reserve is Dead.” CBC News. January 8. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/stoney-nakoda-morley-rcmp-shooting-died-1.3926701