Greg Ritchie, a 30-year-old Ojibwe man from Saugeen First Nation near Owen Sound, Ontario, has been identified as the man shot and killed by Ottawa police on January 31. Family members have spoken publicly to say he was experiencing mental health crises and was heading to a pharmacy to pick up medication when he was shot and killed by police. The responding officers have been identified as Ottawa constables Thanh Tran and Daniel Vincelette. Witnesses have reported hearing more than two shots. Tran is a repeat offender. He and another officer had been charged, in September 2011, with assault causing bodily harm following the arrest of an intoxicated 50-year-old homeless man.
Family members say Ritchie, who had been taken from his mother and placed in foster care, had struggled with mental health issues from a young age. He had moved to Ottawa to live with his brother and his partner. Ritchie’s sister-in-law reports that he was in good spirits the morning he was killed, having received his Ontario Disability Support Program payment and going out for a coffee. He then set out to get his medication, suffering a headache and recovering from a concussion. He had been a customer at the pharmacy at Elmvale Acres Mall since arriving in Ottawa.
Police allegedly received a call about a “suspicious incident.” This is a painfully poignant description given that Ritchie’s family says he had an ongoing fear that people viewed him suspiciously because of the way he looked and because of his Indigenous identity.
In the words of his sister-in-law, Chantel Ritchie:
“And the thing is, that’s not the kind of guy he is. He gets scared…and that’s the saddest part. We know that he was in complete and utter terror in a moment like that. He’s scared of just going into a grocery store…of just being in a crowd, because he’s afraid that people want to do something to him or don’t like him because of the way he looks.
“And honestly, we’ve seen it. People just take one look and that’s it. He’s First Nations, he’s been homeless before, and he is afraid. People just take all of that in one look and then make assumptions and then act on it. And it just really hurts that we weren’t there to be able to calm him down because there’s no way that any of this would have happened if we were there. There’s no way.” (quoted in CBC News 2019)
Chantal Ritchie says Greg Ritchie felt better around family and was very involved in learning about his culture. She worries that cultural materials he carried with him might have been misinterpreted as weapons by the police who killed him. In her words:
“I could tell right away he suffered from mental illness, but when he was around family he was very happy. He was very into his culture and learning about his ancestors. He did sometimes exhibit that he feels the pain of what happened to his people…but he was just happy to be around family and to be at powwows and helping at those events.
“He was sometimes hired to keep sacred fires going at ceremonies, and spent time in woods and rivers looking for arrowheads. It also comforted him to recreate arrowheads and other artifacts.
“Those things he keeps on his person because it makes him feel safe. We always tell him, don’t bring it with you anywhere, because we were afraid of this very thing happening.” (quoted in CBC News 2019)
One witness, Shireen Moodley, reports hearing multiple rapid-fire gunshots
CBC News. 2019. “Greg Ritchie ID’d as Man Shot and KIlled by Police at Mall.” CBC News. February 1. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/ottawa-fatal-police-shooting-family-1.5000285