The Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in the province, is investigating the death of a man during a police drug raid in Laval, Quebec on March 29, 2018. The BEI reports that according to initial information, a 36-year-old man died after falling from a seventh floor apartment building during the raid. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The BEI is not independent of police and relies on officers from other forces for its investigations.
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Two Indigenous Victims of Timmins Police in One Weekend: Joey Knapaysweet (21) and Agnes Sutherland (62)
There is growing outrage, and mounting questions, after a deadly weekend in which two Indigenous people were left dead following encounters with Timmins, Ontario, police. Police in the small northern Ontario city shot and killed Joey Knapaysweet, 21, on Saturday, February 3, 2018. Then, on Sunday, February 4, Agnes Sutherland, 62, died in police custody. Both victims were from Fort Albany First Nation, a James Bay community.
Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents nearly 50 Indigenous communities in northern Ontario, expressed great concern over the two deaths in two days. In his words: “It’s very troubling. The families have a lot of questions” (quoted in Perkel 2018).
Deaths at the Hands of Police
Details about both deaths are limited so far. Police control information about their killings and deaths related to their activities. This is a problem across Canada in terms of policing. Police did not release the names of their victims. The names were conformed by multiple other sources, including federal Member of Parliament Charlie Angus.
With regard to the police shooting of Joey Knapaysweet, the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has only said that there was “an interaction” between officers and the victim and an officer discharged a firearm striking the man.
Agnes Sutherland was arrested at a shelter after having been asked to leave the Timmins District Hospital, where she had sought help. She was taken to a police station and put in a cell on Saturday, the same day Knapaysweet was killed. Later that same evening she was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead late Sunday.
In a statement issued by Indigenous leaders Grand Chief Fiddler, Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon of the Mushkegowuk Council, and Fort Albany First Nation Chief Andrew Solomon, serious questions are raised: “It is alleged that when police attended at the scene of the local shelter, Ms. Sutherland was treated roughly while being taken into police custody. She suffered severe complications during her detention” (quoted in Perkel 2018).
Systemic Racism and Colonial Legacies
In their statement, Grand Chief Fiddler, Grand Chief Solomon and Chief Andrew Solomon call for a timely and thorough investigation. They raise the very real issues of racism in policing and the violence targeted at Indigenous people by police. In their words: “We have seen systemic racism in the city of Thunder Bay, and must now wonder if this is also happening in Timmins” (quoted in Perkel 2018).
Notably, Timmins Mayor Steve Black acknowledged that the deaths at the hands of police had increased racial tensions in the city, though he did not specify. He said: “I don’t believe there’s room for racism in any community. If changes need to be made or things need to be done to improve those relationships, we’re definitely willing to work with our partners on improving those relationships” (quoted in Perkel 2018). No word on whether that includes dismantling settler colonial police forces (or mayoralties). He has, though, condemned people who have spoken out against the police and their actions on social media (CBC News 2018).
Health Care Not Cops
According to the Chiefs, both victims had left the remote community of Fort Albany, near Ontario’s James Bay coast, to seek medical care in Timmins. They note in their statement: “Our people must continually leave their families and communities to come to cities to seek services that are not available in their respective communities” (quoted in 2018). The deaths come as an emergency summit is being held in Timmins by the Mushkegowuk Council this week. The regional James Bay government declared a state of emergency in November, concerned over the growing number of drugs and alcohol coming into its seven member communities (CBC News 2018).
Sutherland’s son, Glen Sutherland, told the Timmins Daily Press that his mother was a survivor of the notorious St. Anne’s residential school. He said that she needed a wheelchair to get around, and questioned the actions of hospital staff. She was using a wheelchair at the time of her arrest. Glen Sutherland said that her frequent trips to the emergency room were a cry for help (Perkel 2018). She was a mother of six with six great grandchildren.
The mistreatment at hospitals of Indigenous people seeking medical assistance has been a disturbing, and too common, issue in various locations in Canada, including infamous cases in Winnipeg, Manitoba that have gained some national attention. It speaks to ongoing legacies of colonialism and racism in Canada.
A vigil in Timmins for Knapaysweet on Tuesday, February 6, drew around 100 people. Chief Andrew Solomon is calling on the Attorney General of Ontario and the Minister of Community Safety to investigate the Timmins Police (CBC News 2018).
Police and criminal justice systems more broadly in Canada disproportionately target Indigenous people and disproportionately target them for violence. Criminal justice systems, including police forces, were founded as instruments of settler colonialism, occupation, dispossession, and displacement and this must always be front and center in discussions of policing in the country.
CBC News. 2018. “First Nations Chiefs ‘Shocked’ by Timmins Deaths.” CBC News. February 7. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/indigenous-chief-respond-timmins-1.4525074
Perkel, Colin. 2018. “Two Indigenous Deaths Linked to Police in Timmins, Ont., has Sparked Sorrow, Anger.” Toronto Star. February 7. https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/02/07/two-indigenous-deaths-linked-to-police-in-timmins-ont-has-sparked-sorrow-anger.html
Anthony Heffernan was alone in his hotel room, holding a syringe, and posing no threat to the public or police, when Calgary police officers broke down the door to the room, burst in, and shot the 27-year-old four times, twice in the head. The officer in question fired six time in total that day in March 2015. The syringe Heffernan was holding had no needle attached. Despite the fact that the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), the agency that examines case of police harm to civilians in Alberta, found that there were grounds to charge the officer responsible criminally, the Crown prosecutors decided not to lay charges.
On January 10, 2018, Anthony Heffernan’s parents found out that their bid to have a judicial review of the decision not to lay charges in the case was not granted. Court of Queen’s Bench Justice John Henderson ruled that there is no evidence to support the parents’ allegation that there was an abuse of process by the Crown.
This does not answer why the Crown chose not to follow the ASIRT recommendation to charge the officer nor does it explain how breaking down a door and firing six shots at someone for holding a piece of plastic is justifiable or reasonable force, or does anything to protect the public. The state protects the state.
The Heffernan family had argued that the officer fired recklessly and wildly. They have filed a lawsuit against the police service.
The Calgary police force had been involved in six fatal police shootings over two years in 2015 and 2016.
A database of deaths involving BC law enforcement shows an increase in police-involved deaths of civilians in the province in 2016, the third year in a row such an increase has been recorded. The database is maintained by The Georgia Straight newsmagazine, and journalist Travis Lupick, and uses information from the BC Coroners Service and the Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in the province. The records account for people dying during interactions with police and in law enforcement agency custody. Numbers for 2017 are still being compiled and assessed.
Over the period of 2009 to 2013, reported police involved deaths were at 13 or 14 each year. In 2014, the number of recorded deaths rose to 16. There were 17 recorded in 2015 and 18 in 2016. The eighteen recorded deaths in 2016 represents the highest number recorded for a single year in the database, which traces back to 2003. In 2007 there were 17 deaths reported, the second highest number.
The database records show that the increase has been driven by the RCMP, which polices 150 municipalities across the province as well as serving as a provincial and a federal force. While many of those are jurisdictions are small towns, and several notable killings by police have occurred in small towns and in the north, the RCMP is also responsible for larger cities, including Metro Vancouver centers of Burnaby, Richmond, and Surrey. In 2012, four people died during interactions with RCMP officers, while the number rose to seven in 2013, six in 2014, 12 in 2015, then 12 again in 2016.
In terms of shootings, since 2006, there have been an average of 3.8 recorded fatal shootings by police each year. Total numbers for the database include deaths in BC prisons (omitting natural causes). Deaths in prisons continue to constitute a relative minority in the reported cases. The database suggests that many of the cases of reported police-involved deaths involve issues of mental health and/or substance use. Issues like race, and racism, and impacts of colonialism are not systematically documented.
There are no official recording and communicating procedures for documenting police-involved killings in British Columbia, nor are there in other Canadian provinces. This leads the public to believe police killings of civilians in Canada occur less frequently than they actually do. We have heard people express on numerous occasions the belief that police killings of civilians in Canada in single digit numbers each year—for the country as a whole. The reported numbers obviously do not include any killings of civilians by police that police do not report.
The database can be accessed at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1aLNSF4Hkk9XdVKeuVU6ZrRO6GtSxT4t8TiMiQ6ptLrY/edit#gid=0
Inquest Ordered into Killing of Michel Vienneau by Killer Bathurst Cops Patrick Bulger and Mathieu Boudreau
On Friday, November 24, 2017, the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice and Public Safety in New Brunswick announced a coroner’s inquest into the 2015 shooting of Michel Vienneau by Bathurst Police Force constables Patrick Bulger (38) and Mathieu Boudreau (28).
Michel Vienneau, a 51-year-old Tracadie resident, was shot and killed in a Bathurst Via Rail parking lot on January 12, 2015 after the two officers, who may not have been clearly identified, attempted to detain him. The police were acting on an anonymous tip that Vienneau was carrying “a load of drugs” with him as he returned from Montreal with his partner Annick Basque. The tip proved to be completely false and Vienneau had no criminal record. Constables Patrick Bulger and Mathieu Boudreau were charged with manslaughter by means of an unlawful act, assault with a weapon, and unlawfully pointing a firearm but were let off by provincial court Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman.
Upon hearing of the inquest announcement that he had requested, Nicolas Vienneau, the victim’s brother stated: “We have been living three years of hell” (quoted in MacKinnon 2017). Reflecting on the pain his mother (85) and father (88) have been through, he suggested that they are still “terrorized”: “It’s terrible to live like this” (quoted in 2017). In his view: “If we can find some justice, it will not [help my little brother], but maybe it will give us a little bit of peace” (quoted in MacKinnon 2017).
Only days before the inquest was announced, Crown prosecutors gave notice that they would not be appealing the court decision of February 24 , 2017, in which provincial court Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman decided to drop charges against the two killer cops. The announcement by prosecutors resulted in a lifting of the publication ban on the trial and raised serious questions about the court’s actions, as we reported at the time. The Crown had sought a judicial review of Judge Dugas-Horsman’s decision, seeking to have it overruled, but Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Tracey DeWare dismissed that application in October.
Nicolas Vienneau reports that the family is “still in shock” over the decision not to appeal (quoted in MacKinnon 2017). He is left to ask: “How can justice allow a person to be shot dead…sitting in his car in motion, by two policemen in civilian clothes…with [an] unmarked car?” (quoted in MacKinnon 2017). The short answer is that the killers were cops and in the Canadian context they are allowed to kill with impunity. But more detailed answers are needed. The family remains perplexed that civilian witnesses were not questioned during preliminary inquiry, which they view as inadequate.
Nicolas Vienneau plans to bring a petition to the House of Commons to have the identity of the Crime Stoppers tipster revealed. In his words: “My family still believes that the tipster of this false information…is the key to the puzzle” (quoted in MacKinnon 2017)
Bulger and Boudreau are still working as officers but face a professional conduct investigation by the New Brunswick Police Commission. That investigation had been suspended while criminal charges were still in effect. With the conclusion of criminal proceedings that investigation will resume.
Annick Basque is suing killer cops Bulger and Boudreau as well as the City of Bathurst.
MacKinnon, Bobbi-Jean. 2017. “Michel Vienneau’s Family Hopes Inquest into 2015 Shooting Death Will Provide Answers.” CBC News. November 24. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/michel-vienneau-coroner-inquest-bathurst-police-shooting-1.4417683
Court Actions Questioned in Killing of Michel Vienneau by Constables Mathieu Boudreau and Patrick Bulger
Michel Vienneau, a 51-year-old man from Tracadie, New Brunswick, was shot and killed by Bathurst police officers Mathieu Boudreau (now 28) and Patrick Bulger (now 38) outside the Bathurst VIA Rail station on the morning of January 12, 2015. Despite serious questions about police killing of an innocent man under questionable circumstances, in which police had no “reasonable and probable” grounds to arrest, charges against the officers were dropped by provincial court Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman. Now that the Crown prosecutor has chosen not to appeal, the publication ban on evidence presented during the officers’ preliminary inquiry has been lifted. Emerging details raise further questions about the killer cops’ actions and the judge’s decision not to try their cases.
Police intercepted Vienneau as he arrived by train from a Montreal vacation with his common-law partner, Annick Basque. Police were acting on an unconfirmed and unverified anonymous tip that Vienneau was carrying an unspecified “load of drugs” back from Montreal with him. An RCMP investigation following Vienneau’s killing found that the tip was completely false. Vienneau not carrying any drugs, and he had no previous record with police. He was completely innocent of the claims made anonymously against him, yet police killed him shortly after encountering him. Constable Boudreau fired four shots at the victim who was inside his car at the time.
It seems that there was some pressure on Constable Bulger to make a big bust, and a concern that he might have missed it. When the tip came in just before 10 AM that morning, a supervisor is reported as saying to Bulger, “you missed a load this morning.”
Six police officers attended the Via Rail train station in Bathurst in three unmarked cars to intercept Vienneau. Curiously, they did not take the opportunity to arrest Vienneau immediately but instead waited until he and Basque disembarked the train, picked up their luggage and entered their vehicle.
Basque’s account of the police attempt to arrest Vienneau differs greatly from the one provided by the officers. She says that she did not even know that the men accosting them were police officers. When Bulger exited his car with a gun in his hands, she reports that Vienneau tried to drive by him, moving slowly. Basque suggests that when she heard gunshots her first thought was that the men were “going to kill everyone.” Not realizing that they were police officers, she fought against her arrest until she recognized some uniformed officers.
The Crown’s case raised the fact that the police had no “reasonable and probable” grounds to arrest Vienneau in the first place because the tip police were acting on was unreliable and unverified. Details released reveal that the preliminary inquiry heard that less than an hour elapsed between the time police received the tip was and the time that they arrived at the train station. In fact, the tip was not investigated by police and, incredibly, several officers had not even read it fully.
In the decision of February 24 , 2017, provincial court Judge Dugas-Horsman stated that she simply did not feel Boudreau and Bulger had acted illegally. It seems that Judge Dugas-Horsman made several contortions of logic to let the police off. First, the judge found that ‘”not having reasonable and probable grounds’” for an arrest did not make for an unlawful arrest. She then said that technically an arrest never happened because, well the police killed Vienneau before he was fully under arrest (even though he was “technically” detained in his vehicle). The judge then gave officers another excuse, suggesting that officers have the right to stop vehicles under the Motor Vehicle Act. Judge Dugas-Horsman then went further offering the copaganda excuse that anyone disobeying a police order to stop (as Bulger says he did without independent confirmation of the order or whether Vienneau ever heard it if it were given). According to Dugas-Horsman (in full cop defense mode): “This failure to stop heightens the suspicion of a police officer, who is then entitled to wonder why the person is not stopping,.” The state protects the state and goes out of its way to do so in protecting killer cops.
The only testimony presented at the preliminary hearing, apart from that provided by Annick Basque, was provided by several police officers. The Vienneau family has raised questions about this. They ask why none of the civilians who were present at the train station were asked to provide their versions of what they witnessed that day. The family has also asked why no one has bothered to investigate where the anonymous, and false, tip came from in the first place.
Judge Upholds Dismissal of Charges Against Killer Cops Patrick Bulger and Mathieu Boudreau in Michel Vienneau Killing
Constables Patrick Bulger (38) and Mathieu Boudreau (26) had each faced charges of manslaughter with a weapon, assault with a weapon, and unlawfully pointing a firearm for the shooting and killing of businessman Michel Vienneau on January 12, 2015 under highly questionable circumstances. The police had been given an erroneous anonymous “tip” that Vienneau was in possession of drugs when the officers confronted him outside the Bathurst, New Brunswick train station.
On October 20, 2017, Court of Queens Bench Judge Tracey DeWare upheld an earlier court decision dismissing the charges against the two constables. The evidence in the case still remains subject to a publication ban for at least 30 days, unless the ruling is appealed.
In February, provincial court Judge Anne Dugas-Horsman ruled, following a preliminary hearing, that the prosecution failed to produce enough evidence to warrant a trial. The judge dropped charges against the officers. New Brunswick’s Public Prosecutions Services challenged that ruling, arguing that the the judge failed to consider all relevant evidence.
An RCMP investigation later found that Vienneau was not involved in any criminal activity. A civil lawsuit on behalf of Vienneau’s partner, who was accompanying him at the time he was killed, alleges that his death was caused by police negligence.
This decision is not surprising in the least since the state consistently protects the state in cases of police killings of civilians in Canada.