Blue Line

Doctors testify at coroner’s inquest into police shooting of Quebec teen

June 17, 2022  By The Canadian Press

June 15, 2022, Sherbrooke, Que. – A neuropsychiatrist who saw a Quebec teen just months before he was killed by police in July 2018 told a coroner’s inquiry Thursday he’d diagnosed him as suffering from symptoms related to traumatic brain injury.

The inquest is looking into the death of Riley Fairholm, a 17-year-old who was killed by Quebec provincial police after they encountered him in distress and waving an air pistol early on July 25, 2018.

The entire interaction in the parking lot of an abandoned restaurant in Lac-Brome, Que., lasted just over a minute, with a veteran police officer repeatedly telling Fairholm to drop his weapon before one of the six officers who responded fired, striking the teen in the head.

Police have told the inquest he was yelling incoherently and pacing while waving the weapon but did not appear to point it at any officer in particular.

Fairholm had left a suicide note and texted his mother in the minutes before he was shot. He had called 911 on himself and provided police with an accurate description of what he was wearing and that he had a weapon. The responding officers, however, were unaware that the person in front of them was the one who had called 911 and that the weapon he held was an air pistol.

The shooting was investigated by Quebec’s independent police watchdog, after which the Crown decided not to lay charges.

Fairholm’s family have said the police were too quick to shoot and they have accused the police watchdog, the Bureau des enquetes independantes, of lacking transparency.

Several doctors testified Thursday before coroner Gehane Kamel, including neuropsychiatrist Dr. Sylvain Boucher, who assessed Fairholm in February 2018 and recommended treatment for post-concussion syndrome. He identified at least two incidents of traumatic brain injury in Fairholm’s youth, including a skiing accident at age 12.

Boucher told the inquiry Fairholm suffered from symptoms consistent with post-concussion syndrome, including light and noise sensitivity and slowed thought processes. He said that could explain the teen’s problems with focus at school and cyclical depression. “Head trauma can bring symptoms of anxiety, inattention, depression, behavioural issues,” Boucher said.

But he said he did not have reason to believe that Fairholm was suicidal. If there were concerns, he would have reported them, Boucher said.

Boucher had recommended that Fairholm undergo neurofeedback therapy to enhance brain function, a popular therapy used by professional athletes. But Fairholm suffered a rugby-related concussion in May 2018 and the therapy was never administered.

After Boucher’s diagnosis, Fairholm’s family doctor prescribed an antidepressant, Wellbutrin, in April 2018. The doctor, Normand Chagnon, said he never noted outward signs of depression in Fairholm. “Each time I saw Riley, I never saw him depressed,” Chagnon said, adding he was supposed to see Fairholm two months later regarding the medication but never did.

Chagnon became aware of Fairholm’s issues in 2015 when his mother complained of mood swings, depression and problems at school. She tried to have Fairholm seen by a psychiatrist but it was determined he would be assessed by a psychologist, Anna Beth Doyle.

Doyle met with Fairholm a few times in late 2015, but the patient discontinued the visits. When she last saw Fairholm in November 2015, he was doing better, sleeping regularly and had cut out team sports to focus on school. So Doyle said she didn’t push further about continuing the therapy.

“He was a lovely young man, very cooperative, but not of many words,” Doyle said, adding she worked with him on different ways of coping and managing stress when he fell into moderate depressive moments.

“Looking back, perhaps I could have worked more closely with the mother … but he had just turned 15, we were bound by the right of an adolescent to make their own medical decisions,” Doyle said. “It was not our practice to put pressure on the parents.”

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