It is a situation that is happening far too frequently in the Canadian policing context. Experiencing mental distress is levied a death sentence when police are sent to intervene. On Wednesday, January 25, 2017, Nadia Racine (34) died from injuries sustained during a violent arrest by Gatineau police the day before. Racine was injured and had been taken to hospital after police arrested her in her apartment at 24 Rue Charles-Albanel.
Sadly police were responding to a simple noise complaint called in by a neighbor who heard banging and screaming coming from the victim’s apartment. Shawn Lescard, who lives in the apartment directly above hers recounted: “It sounded like she was getting beaten. I wanted to save her life. I thought she was getting beaten and that’s why I called the cops. Now…she’s passed away” (quoted in CBC News 2017). Calling the cops too often ends fatally when mental health issues are involved and should not be an option when someone is experiencing mental distress. Lescard called the Gatineau police non-emergency phone line. He was shaken by news of his neighbor’s death: “She seemed like a good person. Quiet. She [kept] to herself. It’s pretty sad the way she went” (quoted in CBC News 2017).
According to the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI, Bureau of Independent Investigations), the provincial body that examines police harm to civilians in Quebec, Gatineau police said officers responded to the noise complaint at around 6:14 PM Tuesday. BEI spokesman Martin Bonin-Charron reports that when police arrived at Racine’s apartment they received no answer at the door and then forced their way in. Inside the apartment they claim to have found Racine in a state of “mental distress.” According to Bonin-Charron: “She was banging her head around the apartment” (quoted in CBC News 2017). The BEI has not said anything about the arrest that led to Racine’s injuries that did report police put her in handcuffs. According to the BEI: “The police officers, they handcuffed her before realizing she was in [medical] distress” (quoted in CBC News 2017). It is not clear why police handcuffed someone who at most was suggested as a victim of assault based on the call put in by the neighbor Lescard. One might well note the contradiction in the police reports already though. On one hand they say they entered the apartment to find the victim in distress but on the other hand they claim to have handcuffed her before realizing she was in distress.
The BEI has assigned eight investigators to this case. They are not an independent oversight body and as a result will be joined in the investigation (and monitored) by the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police.
CBC News. 2017. “Woman Fatally Injured During Arrest by Gatineau Police, Identified.” CBC News. January 26. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/woman-dead-gatineau-bureau-enqu%C3%AAtes-ind%C3%A9pendantes-1.3952975