The victim of a shooting by Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) on November 27, 2018, has been publicly identified as 27-year-old Jorden McKay. It has been reported that McKay was a father to two young children. McKay’s family has expressed concerns about details being released by police to the media before telling the family. The two RNC officers involved in the killing of Jorden McKay have not been named publicly as is typically the case in Canada where it is difficult for families and communities to find out the names and histories of police who kill.
Tag Archives: victims
Nearly a year after the death of Debra Chrisjohn in police custody, and even after the filing of charges against police officers responsible, Constable Mark McKillop of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Constable Nicholas Doering of the London Police Service, many issues remain unaddressed and unanswered about police actions in her arrest, detention, and death. Beyond the specific actions undertaken by police, the circumstances of Chrisjohn’s death raise issues of police racism and violence against Indigenous people and communities.
Debra Chrisjohn (39) of the Oneida Nation of the Thames was arrested on September 7, 2016. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, announced on July 13, 2017, that constables McKillop and Doeriing have been charged with one count each of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life. Both had contact with Chrsijohn on the day she died. The family has received few facts about the death of their loved one beyond this.
The family wants to know why the officers did not seek medical attention for their loved one when it became apparent that she needed help. Debra Chrisjohn’s father Robert Chrisjohn, asks: “Why didn’t the police take her to the hospital sooner when they knew she was sick and needed help? The police arrested her and were responsible for making sure she was okay. This happens way too often in our community. This happens all the time. The police just don’t seem to care” (quoted in McQuigge 2017)
Caitlyn Kasper, of Toronto’s Aboriginal Legal Services, claims that police had enough information available to deal with Debra Chrisjohn’s case in a different way. For example, police knew that Chrisjohn had a documented history of both substance abuse and mental illness. At the time of her arrest and detention on September 7, 2017, there were clear indications that Chrisjohn was in need of medical attention, not time in police custody
The family and community advocates insist that any discussion related to the actions of these officers in this case must address the troubling behaviors of police forces across Canada in dealing with Indigenous communities. This is, of course, an ongoing history of colonial violence and brutality. In the words of Caitlyn Kasper: “What happened to Debra is not an isolated incident. It is very obvious that it isn’t these types of issues just in London or the Oneida First Nation. It’s a concern we hear about in Toronto, all across Ontario and all across Canada” (quoted in McQuigge 2017)
.According to Kasper, the case against the officers must focus on what she terms the “foundational relationship” between police and Indigenous people across the Canadian state (McQuigge 2017). Kasper notes the ongoing questions of police responsibility in cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, Many believe that police have been purposefully negligent in investigating those cases. Others suggest that police are themselves involved in the killings and disappearances of Indigenous women. Samantha Doxtator, a friend of the victim, has stitched together traditional moccasin vamps to commemorate Debra Chrisjohn and is sending them to be included in an art installation in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the United States.
Giselle Dias, an area psychotherapist who has spent 25 years working for prisoners’ rights, insists it be acknowledged that Indigenous and marginalized communities are most impacted by the criminal justice system in Canada. She agrees that Chrisjohn’s death points fundamentally to the a systemic issue of over-policing and mistreatment within racialized communities (Ghonaim 2017). And she is rightly not optimistic about the court process offering any redress. In her words: “Just because these police officers have been charged, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be found guilty. I will not rest assured” (quoted in Ghonaim 2017).
In case after case this truth remains. The system protects itself and that includes protecting killer cops.
Ghonaim, Hala. 2017. “Family of Indigenous Woman Who Died in Police Custody Seeks Answers and Justice.” CBC News. July 13. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/family-of-indigenous-woman-who-died-in-police-custody-wants-justice-1.4204624
McQuigge, Michelle. 2017. “Charges Point to Police-Indigenous Tensions.” Sudbury Star. July 15. http://www.thesudburystar.com/2017/07/15/charges-point-to-police-indigenous-tensions
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.
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
The finding of “excited delirium,” which makes its primary appearance in medical contexts usually only ever as justification for police killings of civilians, is an ideological tool used to excuse lethal police force. It has been used by police forces as a way to simultaneously blame victims for their own killings and give killer cops an answer where no real answer exists.
This dubious piece of copaganda has been offered up once again in Alberta to excuse Edmonton Police Service officers who killed a 25-year-old man on April 29, 2015. This despite well established debunking of the notion of excited delirium. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) offered the excited delirium defense in findings released on April 18, 2017, two years after the young victim died after being subjected to force by multiple officers while in police custody.
Sadly, the victim was targeted by police for the trivial act of supposedly trespassing in the City Centre Mall after nervous security staff called them. The security staff had tweaked to him because they suspected him of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. So an effort at moral regulation by private security ultimately resulted in a young man having his life taken by police. The ASIRT report added to the moral regulatory approach by suggesting the man had been uncooperative with police, saying he refused to follow directions.
For many police officers refusing to follow directions is an invitation to a beating or worse an extrajudicial execution. In this case ASIRT reports that at least four officers used force on the man supposedly to get him into restraints. After being violently removed from the mall and taken into Downtown Division the man was placed on the floor in the detention area. At this point Edmonton Police Services officers noticed he was unconscious, and in medical distress. Paramedics took the man to hospital but he could not be stabilized and was declared dead there.
Notably, the ASIRT reports makes clear that the man was acting in a way that suggested both to private security and police that his issue was health related not criminal. According to the ASIRT release the man “exhibited bizarre behaviour” (ASIRT). The report continues: “He was observed twisting and attempting to pull away. He was observed to be breathing heavily, mumbling and yelling, mostly incoherently” (ASIRT). Yet the intervention was, once again, repressive violence and thuggish force rather than health care.
This is a case in which private security and police intervene against someone who is, at most, dealing with substance abuse issues. Police should not be intervening in this situation. Yet they do so with force. And when force becomes lethal they turn to “excited delirium” in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable. And it routinely gets them off. And mainstream media repeat the claim uncritically.
The killing of Abdirahman Abdi, a 37-year old Somali Canadian man, by Ottawa Police Constable Daniel Montsion on July 24, 2016, was a particularly vicious and brutal affair which sparked community outrage and a community movement for “Justice for Abdirahman.” Montsion repeatedly delivered heavy baton blows to the defenseless man. On Monday March 6, 2017 Ontario’s police oversight agency, the SIU (Special Investigations Unit) brought three charges against Constable Montsion: manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon. Laying of charges against police officers who kill civilians is a too rare outcome in Canada.
The lethal beating of Abdi, a man struggling with mental health issues, while neighbors called out for the officers to stop was partially caught on video. Neighbors looked out for Abdi who was well known in the community and informed officers of his mental health issues and likely fear and lack of understanding of police commands. They implored officers to back off the frightened man but the assault with baton persisted. Abdi was pronounced dead in hospital the following day but family members say hospital officials told them the man was dead forty-five minutes before he arrived at the hospital.
Constable Montsion is a member of the Ottawa police direct action response team (DART) which targets gang but was assisting on patrol when he killed Abdi. Montsion has been on desk duty throughout the investigation and is now scheduled to appear at the Ontario court of justice in Ottawa on March 29. A second officer, Constable Dave Weir was involved in the assault on Abdi but the SIU concluded he was only a witness officer.
As reported previously by killercopscanada Constable Montsion was policing a neighborhood of Somali migrants despite having a history of violence against Somali-Canadians. By his own admission he had “panicked” when faced with a suspect of Somali background in a case that might also have included the planting of evidence by police.
The police assault on Abdi began with a 911 call from a Bridgehead coffee shop in Abdi’s neighborhood in Ottawa. What happened there is still unclear but owner Tracey Clark says Abdi had made some customers feel uncomfortable or harassed. In her words:
“He would stand and stare at customers, or get a little bit too close, and we were beginning to hear from customers that it was making them feel uncomfortable. And so we had started to have those conversations where, ‘Are you aware of this behaviour, could we ask you not to do that?’ So there were some interventions like that that had taken place.” (quoted in Nease and Pritchard 2017)
After leaving the coffee shop Abdi apparently attempted to return to his apartment three blocks away. On the way he was intercepted by police. One witness, Ross McGhie reports that Abdi appeared fearful of receiving baton blows from the officer who clearly held a baton, and as a result picked up a piece of foam from the street (Nease and Pritchard 2017). He held it over his head in a defensive, not offensive, posture.
At some point, at the corner of Wellington and Hilda streets near Abdi’s apartment, the first officer tried to grab Abdi who dropped the foam and tried to run to his apartment building on Hilda Street. The officer prevented this by striking Abdi a few times on his legs, arms and upper body according to the witness Ross McGhie (Rease and Pritchard 2017). The officer also shouted at the stricken man.
At that point a second officer, said to be Constable Montsion, arrived on scene in a cruiser. He apparently moved very quickly and aggressively against the victim. In the words of McGhie: “The officer emerged from that car very rapidly … pulled up right in front of the building … immediately jumped into the altercation and administered a number of very heavy blows to the head and face and neck of Mr. Abdi” (quoted in Nease and Pritchard 2017).
Family lawyer Lawrence Greenspon noted that family members had to endure much during the lengthy SIU investigation. In his words:
“It’s been extremely difficult. You not only have the incredible grief that we really can’t understand unless we go through it ourselves, and I don’t wish that on anybody. You have this grief of losing a son, brother, and it’s magnified … the public light has been shining on this death, this tragedy, for eight months now.” (quoted in Nease and Pritchard 20017)
Greenspon said that the family would likely be pursuing a civil lawsuit as well.
The SIU report is with Ontario’s attorney general, at present Ottawa Centre Member of Provincial Parliament Yasir Naqvi but it is not clear if Naqvi will make the report public or not. This has been a case of great public interest and concern. More than is often the case in situations involving police killings of civilians in Canada.
The police killing of Abdirahman Abdi was the focus of important public mobilizations and campaigns, including mobilizations of “Black Lives Matter.” Large demonstrations calling for “Justice for Abdirahman” were held in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. #justiceforabdirahman gained much attention on social media.
Nease, Kristy and Trevor Pritchard. 2017. “Ottawa Police Officer Charged with Manslaughter in Man’s 2016 Death.” CBC News. March 6. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/abdirahman-abdi-ottawa-police-siu-findings-1.4008142
killercopscanada, 2016. “Constable Montsion’s Somali-Canadian Prroblem: The Killing of Abdirahman Abdi.” killercopscanada. September 9. https://killercopscanada.wordpress.com/category/justiceforabdirahman/
Family of Tony Divers, Hamilton Man Killed by Police, Raises Concerns Over Investigations into the Killing
The lack of effective and independent oversight of police is an ongoing issue in the Canadian context. This is true even where supposedly independent investigations units exist provincially. In every case investigations are impeded by police harassment, non-cooperation, and/or intimidation. In addition their is no mechanism to force police to comply with or adhere to investigation procedures. In many cases investigating agencies have connections with police forces, including dependence of police for their own training. This all means that there is no proper oversight of police in Canada and families are often doubly victimized, first by the taking of a loved one by police and then by a process that excludes them and lacks efficiency and transparency.
One issue being raised by families of victims of police killings in Ontario is with the slow pace of investigations and the lack of information provided publicly and to families. This has been a concern for the main police oversight body in the province, the Special Investigations Unit (considered the gold standard globally, which says plenty)
Growing attention and increasing public outcry in Canada over police killings of civilians has led to an independent review of police oversight in Ontario. One issue examined is the matter of public release of information from SIU investigations. The final report from Justice Michael Tulloch on police oversight in Ontario is slated to be released in March.
The family of Tony Divers (36) has been waiting for answers since their loved one was shot and killed by Hamilton Police on September 30, 2016. The family says it was told that forensics and toxicology work was done in December but it could still take several months several months before the SIU release any information about the investigation. Incredibly, in the meantime, Edward Divers, the victim’s brother, was arrested on an old warrant when he attended a Police Services Board meeting and raised questions about the killing of his brother. This has been viewed as a punitive act of harassment by police.
Police have said they were responding to a call when they targeted Divers. Yet no details have been released about the call or who made it. In addition police have claimed the victim had a gun, yet there is no evidence available that suggests any gun, or any other weapon, was present at the scene apart from police weapons. At least one witness has said that Divers did not have any gun at the scene.
The family says Divers was struggling with mental health issues at the time police killed him. The use of lethal force by police against people experiencing mental health crises has become a too common situation in Canada. So too is the stonewalling of family requests for basic information and insight into the police killings of their loved ones.
Karyn Greenwood-Graham, whose son was killed by Waterloo Police almost a decade ago, points to what she calls the “police culture” that dominates throughout the SIU. In her words: “What we have seen is a lack of support, a lack of respect, a lack of acknowledgement to the families who have lost a loved one, a son, a brother” (quoted in Bennett 2017). Greenwood-Graham organizes with the Affected Families of Police Homicide provides solidarity and support for families of victims of police killings of civilians
The slow process of investigations raises questions about transparency and credibility. It also leaves families in turmoil, harming their health and well being.
Bennett, Kelly. 2017. “Family of Man Shot by Hamilton Police Frustrated by SIU Decision.” CBC News. February 23. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/family-of-man-shot-by-hamilton-police-frustrated-by-wait-for-siu-decision-1.3996304
The woman killed by Toronto police on January 2, 2017 has been identified as Amleset Haile. The 60 year-old native of Ethiopia was living at a home on St. Clarens Avenue, a Houselink home for people with mental health and addiction issues, when police killed her. Amleset Haile’s name has only been released publicly now. While the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency responsible for investigating cases of civilians harmed by police in Ontario, is investigating the killing it has not released her name.
Police arrived at the home near Bloor and Lansdowne Streets in west Toronto at 4:45 AM on January 2 in response to a report of an emotionally distraught woman threatening suicide. Only 15 minutes later, about 5 AM, Amleset Haile was wheeled out on a stretcher, not moving, her neck held in a brace. The woman would die two days later in hospital after being taken off of life support.
Many questions remain unanswered in the month following her death at the hands of police. And family, friends, and neighbors want answers. Among the questions are why a home for people with mental health issues sis not have trained staff available to assist a distraught woman. Another question concerns why such a home would call police first rather than health care providers. Other questions involve what exactly police did to the woman and why and how did she sustain severe trauma to her body within 15 minutes of police activity. The SIU has not confirmed any police claims about the incident.
Friend Jennifer Cox witnessed part of the incident and believes Haile was in fear and running from police. She does not believe the frail woman was strong enough to lift herself up to jump from a window or balcony. Cox, like others, wonders if the situation involving her friend could have ended differently had a mental health caregiver been called and responded instead of police.
The Toronto Police Department does have Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCIT), roving units made up of a specially trained police officer and a mental-health nurse. Despite repeated recommendations and calls coming from coroner’s inquests these crisis teams are not available 24-hours a day. And none are available between 11 PM and 6 AM, what can be desperate overnight hours.
In the view of Steve Lurie, executive director of the Toronto branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, there should be an expansion of hours of specialized mental health units. As he puts it: “If the call was ‘we think someone is suicidal,’ it makes more sense to bring mental health professionals to bear if they are available” (quoted in Gillis 2017).
On the whole far more resources should be put into independent mental health sources and resources in cities across Canada. Yet public funding is overwhelmingly given to police departments, at the expense of mental health care, harm reduction, support services, health care services for poor people, etc. Police departments continue to make up the greatest part of city budgets while mental health funding and resources are slashed.
Amleset Haile is remembered by friends and the community organizations she was active in as generous, caring, and kind. She contributed to her communities through groups like Houselink and Sistering, a group for homeless and poor women in Toronto.
Gillis, Wendy. 2017. “Friends Seek Answers as SIU Probes Death of 60-Year-Old Toronto Woman.” Toronto Star. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/02/20/friends-seek-answers-as-siu-probes-death-of-60-year-old-toronto-woman.html