The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is investigating after an Ottawa police officer was involved in an exchange in which two people were killed and one left injured. The details of the killings have not been released publicly but it has been reported by the SIU that a 31-year-old man was killed during an exchange of gunfire with police and another man, 43 years old, was killed during the police pursuit. None of these reports have been independently confirmed. The incident is said to have taken place around 2 AM on the morning of Saturday, June 3 in Ottawa’s popular downtown Byward Market area, a tourist destination not far from the Parliament buildings. The 31-year-old victim was chased by the police officer into a parking garage before he was killed. The injured man was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
Incredibly, Mathieu Fleury, the city councillor for the market area, wasted no time in playing up the drugs and gangs panics that are often trotted out to justify police violence. In a written statement provided to CBC News, Fleury said the incident “is reflective of the drug and gang activity across our city” (quoted in 2017). This is nothing more than crass fear politics and there is so far nothing to suggest it has any relation to the present case. Neither the SIU nor the Ottawa police have claimed that the Saturday shootings are in any way drug or gang related. The claim is not new though and has been used by the Calgary police chief to justify multiple police killings of civilians in that city (even where they have nothing to do with drugs or gangs).
The SIU has assigned 10 officers to the investigation: three investigators and seven forensics investigators. In addition to the subject officer, two witness officers from the Ottawa police have been identified.
CBC News. 2017. “2 Dead, 1 Injured after Shootout in Byward Market.” CBC News. June 3. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/2-dead-byward-market-shooting-1.4144867
Suicide by cop is a dubious designation, one of those excuses police apply to justify publicly their actions when they kill civilians. The notion is dubious for a number of reasons. First, it is applied after the fact in a range of diverse circumstances including those where the victim has not expressed suicidal wishes (or on the contrary is even happy in life) or is not posing a threat to anyone. Do not forget that the police attempted to use this defense to protect killer cop James Forcillo who shot Sammy Yatim multiple times while the youth was alone in an empty street car. Second, even if someone wishes to “die by cop” does not mean that the police are justified in killing them or should be expected to kill them. It speaks volumes that anyone could expect with probability that an encounter with police would end with the police taking their life. Third, if someone is experiencing mental health issues, the police are not the appropriate response and if they are called for such issues health care providers should be involved rather than police ready to shoot to kill. Fourth, in suicide the person takes the decision and acts. In “suicide by cop” the cops can choose not to shoot and kill the person. Someone is taking the active decision to kill you in a case where they could choose not to. Finally, “suicide by cop” should never be applied as a justification for police killing civilians as it is now. The facts of each encounter matter.
These are all issues to keep in mind when details emerge of the killing by Nunavut RCMP of a 39-year-old man in Hall Beach, in the Qikiqtaaluk region of Nunavut, a town with a population of about 750. RCMP encountered the man over the evening of Monday, May 1 and Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Police claim they were alerted to the man around 11:30 PM after receiving a call about an online Facebook live video in which the man ranted about “suicide by cops.” The man is alone and crying in the video. Police promptly attended the house where the man was present, by himself, and shot and killed him.
This is the third killing of a civilian by police since December 2016 in the small northern territory. As in other recent cases in which Nunavut RCMP have killed a civilian, the Ottawa Police Service will carry out the investigation into their fellow police officers. This is in no way an independent investigation and as in all cases of police “investigating” police lacks all credibility.
Observant commentators have suggested that police actually operate like a gang, closing ranks unquestioningly to support their own no matter how egregious the member’s actions may have been. While there is some truth in this, police are not quite like gangs in that they lack the honor of gangs who at least have some limits, some acts they will not tolerate among members. If anyone needs a case in point they need only look at the dubious activities of the Ottawa Police Association and Ottawa police officers in response to the killing of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somalian-Canadian man suffering mental distress who was beaten to death by Constable Daniel Montsion in July of 2016. Montsion had previously expressed a problem with a suspect who was Somalian.
On Wednesday, March 29, 2017, the first day of preliminary court procedures leading to Montsion’s trial for manslaughter, several Ottawa police officers wore blue and black rubber wristbands stating “United We Stand #1998.” The number printed on the band is actually Montsion’s badge number. The rubber band bracelets are being sold for $2 apiece with the money going to the Ottawa Police Association.
This open show of support for a killer cop whose brutal beating of the defenseless man was partly caught on video is a tasteless and provocative move in a context that is already heated and where community members have mobilized against racist policing. It is an arrogant move that is clearly an attempt to put pressure on the court even as police say they do not comment on cases before the courts.
Incredibly the cops are using the excuse that it is a measure to address the trauma officers face on the job. This is part of a growing campaign to pose police crimes as primarily being about traumas for officers who then need more public money and resources for support. Some paid “criminologists” are being mustered to lend a veneer of credibility to the trauma money appeals led by police associations. Those same bought “criminologists” show little to no regard for the victims of police violence.
A spokesperson for the Justice for Abdirahman Abdi campaign, William Felepchuk, calls the bracelets an “outrage.” He notes that the nature of the crime Monsion is accused of is severe and suggest the move is an interference in the criminal justice process. Felepchuk further notes that police would not be so welcoming of civilians wearing such arm bands in cases of someone accused of killing a police officer.
Police always have pressures, both overt like the arm bands and covert like implied non-cooperation with prosecution, to apply on broader criminal justice processes. One should not expect anything resembling justice from the state in its dealings with killer cops.