Tag Archives: Black Lives Matter

Trial Begins for Killer Cop Patrick Ouellet in Death of 5-Year-Old Nicholas Thorne-Belance

On Monday, June 11, 2018, trial began for killer cop Patrick Ouellet of the provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), in the death of five-year-old Nicholas Thorne-Belance in 2014. Officer Ouellet is charged with one count of dangerous driving causing death in the case. Thorne-Belance was a passenger in his father’s car when it was struck by the unmarked police cruiser driven by Ouellet. Ouellet’s vehicle was traveling at more than 120 km/h in a 50 km/h zone in the Longueuil borough of Saint-Hubert, south of Montreal when he hit the vehicle the five-year-old  was in. The trial is scheduled to last two weeks.


Shocking Video of Pierre Coriolan’s Killing by Montreal Police Released as Family Sues City

We have written extensively on the lack of proper public reporting of police killings of civilians in Canada, the fact that police control the flow of information and what is released publicly, and the lack of truly independent and autonomous oversight of police in Canada. Not all provinces in Canada have oversight agencies at all to investigate cases of police harm to civilians and those that exist are not truly independent or autonomous. Some, like the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI) in Quebec rely on active police force members for investigations.

These facts were put fully, and painfully and violently, on display on Wednesday, February 7, 2018, as the family of Montreal police shooting victim Pierre Coriolan announced that they are suing the City of Montreal over the “brutal and excessive” police intervention in which their loved one was killed by officer on June 27, 2017. The family also released a horrific video  of the police killing taken by a neighbor on a cellphone and passed to the family recently. It shows Coriolan being shot approximately 45 seconds into the police intervention. Lawyers for the Coriolan family suggest that the entire direct encounter lasted about one minute and ten seconds, during which time multiple weapons were used against the victim, including after he had been shot by police and was on the ground.

Pierre, Coriolan, a 58-year-old Black immigrant from Haiti, was shot and killed by in the hallway outside his apartment after police reportedly responded to calls about a man yelling and smashing things inside his apartment on Robillard Avenue near St-André Street, in the city’s gay village.

The killing again raises issues of police violence, poverty, racism, and mental health issues. In addition, there have been concerns about the information provided publicly by police and the BEI regarding the killings of civilians by police.

 

The Video

The four minute cellphone video, recorded by the neighbor, an eyewitness to the killing, shows a chaotic scene in the hallway of the apartment building. Officers apparently use plastic bullets, a taser, and their firearms against Coriolan. He was allegedly holding some object, variously described as a screwdriver or a knife.

The BEI have reported in a statement released at the time of the shooting that police first received 911 calls about Coriolan making noise in his apartment at about 7 PM. The cellphone video begins at 7:30 PM. It is not certain from the video how long officers had been on the scene at that point or what their engagement with Coriolan involved up to that point.

The first five seconds of the video are audio only, without recorded video images. The audio records what is believed to be a gun firing a plastic bullet, followed by the crackling sound of a taser having been fired. Five officers then become visible with weapons drawn. They are crowded into the hallway, their backs to the camera. Other officers off-camera can be heard yelling from around a corner in the hallway.

Pierre Coriolan comes into view eight seconds into the video. He appears to exit his apartment and walk toward the officers. Very soon after he moves from his apartment two or three gunshots are heard, but the image is obscured as the neighbor with the camera ducks somewhat into his apartment. When the camera focuses back on the hallway, an officer is heard yelling, “À terre! (Hit the ground!).”

Coriolan is in view, on his knees, with four officers visible, and still pointing weapons at him. The victim is heard telling the officers, in French, “Pas capable (I can’t).”

At that point, one of the officers is heard, incredibly, asking a colleague in French, “Do you have another shot?” After an unintelligible response, the officer yells, “Take the other shot.”

At that point, two shots ring out. It is not clear what has been fired, plastic bullets or live ammunition.

In response to the gunshots, Pierre Coriolan collapses fully on the ground. Only his legs are visible in the frame. Only then is an officer heard to yell, “Knife.”

A first officer approaches Coriolan and kneeling beside him, appears to search for a weapon, rather than offering any medical care or attention. Shockingly, another officer then approaches Coriolan, extends a telescopic baton, and swings it twice with heavy force toward the victim’s arm. Coriolan is heard to grunt in pain.

Officers lower their weapons, and one is heard speaking into his radio to say, “A man, possibly injured by gunshot.” Clearly they knew he had been hit and injured.

The officers are standing talking to each other calmly. One says, “It’s a screwdriver he had.” Another officer says, “No, it was a knife.” Only then are officers heard saying, “He’s injured. He’s hit.”

Coriolan’s legs can be seen convulsing as one officer says the stricken man is still breathing. Another officer responds saying, “No, he’s not breathing.”

The video ends when an officer demands that witnesses in the hallway get back into their apartments. Pierre Coriolan would be pronounced dead later that evening in hospital.

 

Disturbing Actions Leave Disturbing Questions

Pierre Coriolan’s killing was met with protests and calls for action by community activists and organizers, including Black Lives Matter organizers. Community activists Will Prosper and Maguy Métellus joined the family’s lawyers and Joanne Coriolan, the victim’s niece at the press conference releasing the video and announcing the family lawsuit. The lawsuit was launched by two of Coriolan’s sisters who were not present at the news conference. They are seeking a total of $163,426 in damages.

Prosper, a former RCMP officer, expressed shock and disbelief upon first viewing the video. In his words: “The first question I asked myself is, ‘Why don’t you take the time?’ There’s no rush” (quoted Rukavina in 2018).

Prosper raised the question on everyone’s mind since the killing last year, which is why a man was shot and killed for making noise in his own apartment. As Prosper points out: ”The only thing Pierre was threatening was his own apartment. He was not a threat to anybody else” (quoted in Rukavina 2018).

Prosper was even more stark in his questioning of why a kneeling man was viewed as such a threat. He asks: “What is the threat of a black man kneeling down? It’s a firing squad he’s facing” (quoted in Rukavina 2018).

The only time on the video recording that police even directly speak to Coriolan is when they order him to the ground after he has already been shot. Says Propser: “You see there’s no communication, nothing mentioned to him as he’s kneeling down” (quoted in Rukavina 2018). After the man has been shot and is on the ground police do not even ask after his condition. Instead they hit him with a telescopic baton.

Alain Arsenault, a member of the family’s legal team, said that they have little faith in the BEI investigation and that said a lawsuit is the best available avenue to obtain justice for Coriolan. It may be the only way that the public can find out any meaningful information about the actions of police.

Arsenault said that the decision to release the video was prompted partly by frustration over the slow pace of the investigation and the oversight agency’s refusal to provide updates to the family. These are repeated concerns expressed by family members of people killed by police across Canada.

 

The video can be found here: https://news.google.com/news/video/ow10u5_zod4/dDnbIQ6E5KSZOqMJZ2vQh0aMMunjM?hl=en&gl=US&ned=us

 

Further Reading

Rukavina, Steve. 2018. “Family of Montreal Man Fatally Shot by Police Sues Over “Brutal Intervention.” CBC News. February 7.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-video-police-shooting-rcmp-coriolan-1.4523348


Investigation into Death of David Tshiteya Kalubi (23) in Custody of Montreal Police (Black Lives Matter)

Quebec’s Independent Investigations Bureau (BEI), the unit that examines police harm to civilians in the province, is investigating the in custody death of David Tshiteya Kalubi, a 23-year-old Black youth. Kalubi, who was arrested by Montreal police in his own neighborhood of Hochelaga, was declared dead less that 12 hours after his arrest.

Little information has been released publicly. Police say Kalubi was stopped by officers in Hochelaga and arrested on an outstanding warrant after police ran a background check. The BEI has not stated publicly what the outstanding warrant was for, only that it involved a municipal offense.

Community activists in the city, which has seen many cases of lethal police violence against civilians, and disproportionately against Black people, are raising concerns about Kalubi’s death and the actions of police. Racial profiling and so-called carding, where people are stopped by police and subjected to interrogation and/or background checks, have been strongly condemned by community members in cities across Canada. Carding goes hand in hand with profiling as Black people are disproportionately stopped for carding checks in Canadian contexts. Kalubi is of Congolese background.

Montreal police reportedly took Kalubi to the station, where he spent the night before being transferred to the municipal courthouse in Old Montreal to appear before a judge, according to the BEI. The transfer took place at 7:35 AM. Only a little more than an hour later, at 8:55 AM, a guard noticed that Kalubi was on the floor and appeared to be unconscious. He was then taken to the hospital and declared dead at 9:55 AM. Community members are raising concerns that Kalubi was subjected to differential, discriminatory, treatment because of histories of police racism in Montreal. The family, for its part has not raised the issues of racial profiling. According to the family’s lawyer, Virginie Dufresne-Lemire: “For the moment, there’s not enough information to know if it’s a case of racial profiling, but with a young black man arrested it can look like racial profiling” (quoted in MacArthur 2017).

Dan Philip, the executive director of the Black Coalition of Quebec has said publicly that it took police seven hours to notify his mother and family of Kalubi’s death. Even then, police took the opportunity to  first interrogated the family about Kalubi, before telling them he was dead, according to Philip. Said Philip, in an interview with CBC News: “They felt it was a travesty. They felt there was no compassion. They felt that there was no concern about either the death of the young man or the family themselves who have to mourn the situation” (quoted in MacArthur 2017).

Community advocates have little confidence that the BEI will provide satisfactory answers to the family’s many questions. Critics have long pointed out that the BEI includes several former police officers among its active members.  As Philips suggests: “It’s the police investigating the police. They have no interest in finding out why did he died and what negligence caused his death” (quoted in MacArthur 2017). It has also been pointed out repeatedly that the BEI lacks any meaningful diversity. It is expected that their report will not be released for another year yet.

 

Further Reading

MacArthur, Cecilia. 2017. “After a Young Man Dies in Custody, a Family Searches for Answers.” CBC News. November 24 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/david-tshiteya-kalubi-montreal-police-1.4416153


Killer SQ Cop Patrick Ouellet’s Charge For Killing 5-Year-Old Nicholas Thorne-Belance Will Not Be Dropped

Killer Quebec cop Patrick Ouellet, a member of the provincial force the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), will not have the charge dropped for killing  five-year-old Nicholas Thorne-Belance in 2014, a Quebec judge has decided. Ouellet had filed a motion seeking to have the charge of dangerous driving causing death dropped and has alleged interference in the case by Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée.

Ouellet was involved in a police surveillance operation in which he was tailing the director of the Quebec Liberal Party in an unmarked car on February 13, 2014. During this operation officer Ouellet crashed into a car in which Thorne-Belance was a passenger in Longueuil, south of Montreal. Oullet’s care was traveling at a speed in excess of 120 kilometers per hour in a 50 km/hr zone. The young Thorne-Belance died in a hospital a few days after the crash.

The Crown prosecutor had initially decided not to lay charges, the usual result in cases of police killing civilians, even children, in Canada. A single charge was filed against Ouellet in 2015 after Vallée ordered an independent review of the case amid strong public pressure. Quebec Court Judge Denys Noel ruled on November 21, 2017, that there was no interference on Vallée’s part. Concluded Judge Noel: “One cannot infer from the evidence that the minister ordered the director (to file the charge). There is no evidence of abuse of procedure that would allow for the proceedings to be dropped.” Killer cop  Patrick Ouellet’s trial is scheduled to begin in June, 2018.


Killer Cop Daniel Montsion’s Lawyer Claims Vicious Beating Did Not Kill Abdirahman Abdi

There used to be an old saying, “Help the police, beat yourself up.” Now Michael Edelson, the lawyer for killer Ottawa cop Daniel Montsion, wants a court and the public to believe that the vicious beating his client inflicted on 37-year-old Abdirahman Abdi had nothing to do with killing him. Instead, he suggests Abdi died of a heart attack. And he apparently wants people to believe that, even if he did have a heart attack, a severe beating with baton by police did not play a part in it. So, according to copagandist Edelson, Abdi is responsible for his own death: not the brutal assault he was subjected to. Maybe he beat himself to death.

Edelson made these absurd and offensive claims in an attempt to move up the court date for officer Montsion. According to audio court transcripts from the October 20 hearing, Edelson suggested: “This is not a beating that caused the death of Mr. Abdi. Mr. Abdi died of a heart attack. That’s what killed him.” Montsion has been charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon in the killing of Abdi in July 2016.

The lawyer’s request to move the trial date was denied. The 12-week trial remains scheduled to start in February 2019, which is almost three years after Abdi’s killing.


Montreal Killer Cop Christian Gilbert Pleads Not Guilty: Killed Bony Jean-Pierre

Montreal police officer Christian Gilbert, who killed Bony Jean-Pierre (46) in April 2016, has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge against him. Gilbert shot Jean-Pierre in the head with a plastic bullet during a raid. The killing of Jean-Pierre sparked an uprising in the Montreal North Neighborhood where the shooting happened. The charge against officer Gilbert represents only the ninth time since 1999 that an officer has been charged in the injuring or killing of a civilian in Quebec.

Gilbert was not present in court for the July 6, 2017 appearance.  His defence lawyer Isabelle Briand also informed the court that Gilbert wants a trial by judge and jury. Gilbert’s next court date is scheduled for August 29, 2017.


Inquest Rules Policing Killing of Andrew Loku Homicide, Highlights Anti-Black Racism

Andrew Loku (45), a refugee from South Sudan who suffered PTSD from experiences of torture, was shot and killed by Toronto police officer Andrew Doyle on July 5, 2015. On Friday, June 30, 2017, jury members in a coroner’s inquest into the killing ruled that his death was a homicide. Unfortunately, the Special Investigations Unit, the oversight body that examines cases of police harm to civilians had already decided, in March 2016, that Constable Doyle would not face criminal charges

The month long inquest headed by Dr. John Carlisle had gone beyond previous coroner’s inquests into police killings by actually addressing, at least in part, the role of racism in policing as influencing the actions of Constable Doyle and his partner Haim Queroub and contributing to their lethal use of force. During the inquest officer Doyle admitted to having almost no experiences interacting with Black men (Perkel 2017). Neighbors described Mr. Loku, a father of five, as a sweet man. Doyle and Queroub responded to him as something else. Lawyers argued that the officers’ fear of Black men contributed to their violent actions. It seems the inquest jury agreed.

 

The 39 Steps

The inquest jury made 39 recommendations which were read into the record by by coroner John Carlisle Among the recommendations are these:

Training police on implicit bias and anti-black racism.

Collecting race-based data, to be made public, and funding research to analyze the data.

Equipping police cars with less lethal means of force, including shields and helmets.

Allowing front-line officers to be equipped with Tasers.

Additional training for 911 operators to elicit more information during a call that can help aid in de-escalation.

 

Canadian Mental Health Association executive director Steve Lurie noted: “You have to pass a test on whether you know how to fire a gun, but you don’t have to pass a test on whether you know how to de-escalate” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017a).

The inquest ruling said that police officers should be exposed “to the perspectives and lived experience of racialized communities, the Black community and individuals with mental health issues and/or addictions.” Among the recommendations provided by the jury was that police be required to measure the effectiveness of training related to “anti-black racism and persons in crisis” through means of written and oral examinations. Officers should also be tested for implicit racial bia, and re-attend the training if they fail any of these.

Loku family lawyer Jonathan Shime said to reporters afterward that Andrew Loku should not have had to die for recommendations like these to raised and implemented. In his words: “To be frank, Andrew’s not here, and this whole inquest was necessary because somebody died and children are now without their father and sisters are now without their brother” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017a). This is the underlying truth in this.

On the whole the recommendations are not remarkable and some have been raised too many time before. They do not address the structural role of police and policing within state capitalist political economies and do not address their ongoing systemic measures as upholders of settler colonialism, white supremacy, and exploitation. But, that, of course will not be addresses through any state venue such as an inquest. The community groups and mobilizations around police racism and violence have shown the real possibilities for change and the necessity for change.

 

Institutional Racism and Police Violence

Observers of the inquest have commended the fact that finally an inquest has highlighted intersections between racialization, racism, mental health, and police violence. In Shime’s words: “The reality is a disproportionate number of black men are dying at the hands of police, and it’s time for that to stop. We need to reduce that to zero” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017a). As Shime and others have noted, the inquest made very clear that racism contributed to the police killing of Andrew Loku and officers did not need to use lethal force against him. The recommendations address, if insufficiently, issues of explicit, conscious, as well as implicit, subconscious, racism.

The inquest had heard how six people in the apartment complex had interacted with Loku ahead of the arrival of police. Neighbors said that they said they had been able to calm Mr. Loku down and that, in fact, he was about to hand over the hammer he was holding when the police officers charged onto the floor and confronted him (Perkel 2017). Within around 20 seconds of their arrival Constable Doyle fired twice, hitting Mr. Loku on the left side of his chest.

Shime argued that the officers panicked, in part because Andrew Loku was Black. In his words: “I don’t think Andrew needed to die. There were a number of failings with respect to the training and the handling of this situation that precipitated his death” (quoted in Perkel 2017). The issues go well beyond training of course.

Kingsley Gilliam, with the Black Action Defence Committee, identified systemic racism. In his words, following the inquest: “They recognized that anti-black racism, racism and institutional racism are problems and that racism permeates society” (quoted in Perkel 2017). Gilliam, went further, calling Loku’s death “an execution” (quoted in Perkel 2017).

Lawyer Selwyn Pieters, also with the Black Action Defence Committee, called out the stereotyping of Black men as aggressive and violent. In his words: “When you stereotype black people, particularly men that way, it is more likely to lead to very unfortunate outcomes for black men” (quoted in Perkel 2017). For Constable Doyle it seems that the stereotypes were all that he drew on in the encounter.

 

Black Lives Matter: Community Mobilization is Key

Pieters further said that there will be community mobilization if the recommendations of this inquest are not implemented. Clearly community members will we watching to see what happens with the recommendations. Pieters told reporters that the BADC wants to see all 39 of the inquest recommendations implemented within one year, along with those of an ongoing police oversight review by Justice Michael Tulloch, or there will be an active response. In the words of BADC member Kingsley Gilliam: “We are going to hold their feet to the fire” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017b).

The significant role of Black Lives Matter and other community organizers has to be acknowledged and lauded, both in initiating the inquest and in seeing issues of racism addressed. They also have to be lauded for broadly reframing public perceptions of policing in general. As Pieters suggests:

 

“There’s advocacy in the court and there’s street advocacy. You’ve seen Black Lives Matter were outside of police headquarters for two weeks to get this Loku inquest. I’m sure they’ll be watching this inquest with interest and they will respond appropriately if the recommendations aren’t implemented. They fought for this” (quoted in Ghebreslassie 2017b).

 

Friday’s ruling is not a criminal one, as the Loku family’s lawyer Jonathan Shime explained outside of the inquest Friday. In a coroner’s inquest, the word is used to mean a death was the result of someone’s action.

 

Further Reading

Coroner’s Jury Verdict. 2017. http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/3883244/Andrew-Loku-Verdict-of-Coroners-Jury.pdf

Ghebreslassie, Makda. 2017a. “Andrew Loku’s Police Shooting Death Deemed ‘Homicide’: Coroner’s Inquest.” CBC News. June 30. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/andrew-loku-inquest-recommendations-1.4185715

Ghebreslassie, Makda. 2017b. “’We Are Going to Hold Their Feet to the Fire’: Advocates Want Loku Inquest Recommendations in Place in 1 Year.” CBC News. June 30. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/andrew-loku-inquest-recommendations-1.4185715

Perkel, Colin. 2017. “Inquest Jury Makes Anti-Racism Suggestions in Police Killing of Black Man.” Winnipeg Free Press. June 30. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/canada/police-killing-of-andrew-loku-in-july-2015-in-toronto-ruled-a-homicide–431803453.html

 


Racism, Poverty, Mental Health, and the Montreal Police Killing of Pierre Coriolan

An intersection of racism, poverty, mental health distress, and police violence has once again had a  deadly outcome. The 58-year-old man shot multiple times and killed by Montreal police has been identified as Pierre Coriolan, a Black male of Haitian background who was know to suffer mental health issues. It has now been further revealed that Coriolan was facing eviction from the apartment he had been living in since 2008 on July 1, 2017, and that this had understandably greatly distressed him. The eviction order was issued against Mr. Coriolan by the Quebec rental board on June 1 according to Claudine Laurin, director general of la Fédération des OSBL d’habitation de Montréal, an organization of subsidized housing apartments. That a subsidized housing association would evict someone over mental health issues is troubling.

Police were supposedly responding to a call that Mr. Coriolan was breaking things in his apartment when they showed up and shot him. It has not been stated publicly why police chose to shoot someone multiple times for smashing his apartment but the earlier mentioned intersectional factors offer something of an answer, particularly the engrained violence of police. When Urgence-Santé arrived at the scene of the shooting around 7:30 PM, Mr. Coriolan was in cardiac arrest. He was taken to hospital and died at about 9:45 PM.

Neighbors have said that they sometimes heard Mr. Coriolan screaming and plates breaking in the apartment but insist that he did not bother them and they understood that he was not well. They did not fear him and were not disturbed by him. Neighbors expressed shock over the police actions.


Montreal Police Kill Another Black Man (June 27, 2017)

The Montreal police have a terrible history of killing Black civilians. The names of some of the victims, such as Presley Leslie, Marcellus Francois, and Alain Magloire, give testimony to that fact. That is only part of the story as Black residents regularly speak out against racial profiling and violence directed against them by Montreal police. It is important to note, then, that the 58-year-old man shot multiple times and killed by Montreal police on June 27, 2017, has been identified as a Black man by the BEI (Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, Bureau of Independent Investigations), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Quebec. The victim has not yet been named.

The killing again raises many questions about the Montreal police force (though racism and regular deployment of lethal force are standards of police forces across Canada at municipal, provincial, and federal levels). As Fo Niemi, the executive director of Montreal’s Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, suggests: “It raises the question, ‘where do we go from here?’ Is this a case where race plays a role in this incident? Is it mental health? I think there are a lot of questions here that need to be asked because this is not a situation that should occur too often in this city” (quoted in CBC News 2017).

Before being shot the man had only been suggested to be breaking things in his apartment. Surely not a capital, or even particularly harmful “offense.” As community activist Will Prosper, a former RCMP officer, puts it the man appears not have been “presenting a menace to anyone except to his apartment” (quoted in CBC News 2017). Yet police moved to coercive, then lethal means. Questions must be asked about the role of racism, or implicit bias, in this.

Critics note that police use of threatening behavior and the display of weapons will only make the situation worse in a case of someone experiencing mental distress or already feeling anxious and defensive. As Prosper suggests: “That’s not what you need to preserve the life of the citizen. It’s going to do the [complete opposite], and I think that’s probably what happened in this case” (quoted in CBC News 2017). In Prosper’s view, the man could have benefited from someone talking to and calming him down without the presence of weapons. In Prosper’s words: “If you’re saying ‘calm down’ and you have the gun pointed at his face, that’s not going to work” (quoted in CBC News 2017). This is why police should not be sent in such cases in place of health care providers (if anyone needs to be sent for smashing dishes at home at all).

Police racism and the killings of Black men have received too little public attention and ire. These realities have been ideologically downplayed by governments at all levels. They have also been distorted and denied by police officers, forces, and associations. Criminologists in Canada have also done too little to expose and challenge these issues, too often playing the part of police apologists. Black Lives Matter activists and movements have done much work to shift understandings in the Canadian context.

 

Further Reading

CBC News. 2017. “’Where do We Go from Here?’ Fatal Shooting by Montreal Police Raises Hard Questions.” CBC News. June 28. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-police-shooting-mental-illness-1.4181469

 


Institutional Racism Finally Addressed at Inquest into Toronto Police Killing of Andrew Loku

A report published by the Toronto Star In August 2015, one month after Andrew Loku was shot and killed by Toronto police officer Andrew Doyle, found that, of the 51 fatal shootings involving the Toronto police between 1990 and 2015, at least 18 involved Black men (Gillis 2017). This represented 35 percent of fatal police shootings (Gillis 2017). In another 17 cases, or 33 percent, the racialized background of the victim of the police killing was deemed not identifiable with certainty (Gillis 2017). The population of Black people in Toronto over that time was approximately nine percent. Despite this fact there had been reluctance by some, including the coroner, as well as expected opposition from police, to address the issue of institutional racism among police head on and by name in the inquest into Andrew Loku’s killing by police.

Marianne Wright, the lawyer representing Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, said parties to the inquest “should stick to the notions which are within the scope of the inquest. I’m struggling with the emotional content of the word racism” (quoted in Gillis 2017). Others struggled with the emotional content of racism itself and the racist actions of killer cops in Toronto.

Howard Morton, the lawyer for community group Across Boundaries, a mental health organization working for racialized communities and the organization that called McKenzie as a witness, argued that there was “nothing wrong with confronting a live issue like racism. To deprive me of the use of the word racism . . . it just confounds me and I’m flummoxed to the nth degree about why we’re all afraid of that term” (quoted in Gillis 2017).

The discussion of institutional racism centered on the looming testimony of Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatrist and the director of health equity at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, who was set to address organizational practices and racism. His work argues that organizations need to acknowledge that racism exists in their institutions in order to effect change.

Coroner and inquest head Dr. John Carlisle ruled late Monday, June 19, in the third week of the inquest, that “questions of the witness will not explore the topic of racism” (quoted in Gillis 2017). That decision led to an application from Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) lawyer Selwyn Pieters requesting a reconsideration. Pieters’ application asked that McKenzie “be permitted to testify in respect to racism…particularly systemic and institutional racism” (quoted in Shahzad 2017). In his words: “It is a manifest error in the context of this case to speak of implicit bias and exclude racism. Racism is the elephant in the room in this case” (quoted in Gillis 2017). Implicit bias had been addressed by psychology professor Dr. Nicholas Rule in the inquest’s second week, but institutional racism itself had not been explicitly discussed.

Dr. Carlisle’s ruling was not overturned but council reached an agreement that discussion of institutional racism would not be prohibited. In Pieter’s words: “Today, the witness was able to be questioned unimpeded and to delve into the issue of racism, and anti-Black racism, and I think we made some headway” (quoted in Gillis 2017). He continued: “Dr. McKenzie was able to give us evidence unimpeded in respect to racism and what institutional structures need to be changed in order to foster a culturally inclusive environment that is free from racism” (quoted in Shahzad 2017).

For his part, when questioned about institutional racism at the inquest, Dr. McKenzie noted that “training by itself won’t make the difference…more has to happen throughout the institution” (quoted in Shahzad 2017). Yet policing in Canada is founded in colonial and racist violence. Policing institutions have had generations to change but no impetus to do so.

Idil Abdillahi, a former board chair for Across Boundaries, concluded: “We can’t ignore that this man was a Black man. This active refusal to engage race and racism is what we see playing out here” (quoted in Gillis 2017). It is the racism at the heart of policing in Canada.

 

Further Reading

Gillis, Wendy. 2017. “Final Witness Prompts Debate over Racism at Andrew Loku Inquest.” Toronto Star. June 20. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/06/20/11th-hour-motion-says-racism-must-be-discussed-at-andrew-loku-inquest.html

Shahzad, Ramna. 2017. “Expert Psychiatrist Testifies on Institutional Racism at Andrew Loku Inquest.” CBC News. June 20. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/loku-motion-racism-1.4169115