Blue Line

In report on police killing, Quebec coroner says officers need ‘less lethal’ weapons

June 20, 2023  By The Canadian Press

June 20, 2023, Montreal, Que. – A coroner’s report into the death of a Black man shot and killed by police in a city northeast of Montreal says officers showed restraint during the intervention.

Jean Rene Junior Olivier, 37, was killed by police on Aug. 1, 2021, in Repentigny, Que., as he was experiencing a mental health crisis.

Earlier this year, lawyers for the deceased man’s mother, Marie-Mireille Bence, said they felt race may have played a role in his death, as they announced a lawsuit against the city and the local police for $430,000.

But coroner Karine Spenard pushed back against that claim in an eight-page report released Tuesday, saying officers did not provoke Olivier’s actions.

“Relatives of Mr. Olivier said they were convinced that the police had gone to him with the intention of killing him,” Spenard said. “With respect, I do not subscribe to this opinion, particularly because the police attempted a de-escalation while remaining at a distance.”

The coroner found that officers tried to de-escalate the situation for nearly 14 minutes before opening fire when Olivier ran toward them with a steak knife. They did not know he was holding a steak knife until after they shot him.

Spenard’s report said she studied video of the encounter and listened to audio with 911 operators. As well, she said she consulted with an expert on police use of force.

The Repentigny police force has faced several racial profiling and human rights complaints over the years. In response, the force commissioned a report on its officers’ interactions with Black residents, and introduced an action plan to deal with the matter.

But Spenard said she didn’t believe race was a factor in this case.

“I would like to emphasize that at no time did I hear any words, comments or remarks on the colour of Mr. Olivier’s skin,” Spenard said. “This element therefore does not appear to me to be contributory to the death.”

Spenard’s only recommendation was for the municipal force to acquire and train officers in the use of what are known as intermediate weapons, such as rubber bullets. She said those types of weapon – also known as less-lethal weapons – can be fired from a greater distance: up to 50 metres.

While there was a stun gun and pepper spray on site, officers were too far away from Olivier to use them, she said.

“Given the increasing number of police interventions with mentally disturbed people whose behaviour represents a threat, the use of (intermediary weapons) seems entirely appropriate in such contexts,” Spenard wrote.

Bence has said she expected her son to be taken to a psychiatric hospital when she called 911 to report that he was experiencing psychological distress and was carrying a knife. Six police officers arrived, along with an ambulance.

In February, Quebec’s Crown prosecutor’s office decided there were no grounds to lay criminal charges against any of the officers connected with the fatal shooting. Shortly thereafter, the family filed the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, the city said in a statement it had received a copy of the coroner’s report and was considering its recommendation.

“We are aware that each stage of this file is an ordeal for the family, loved ones, the police and our community and we are very sensitive to this,” the city said in an unsigned statement.

“In respect of the people involved and the legal process still in progress, the city and its police department will not issue any additional comments upon the filing of said report.”

Print this page


Stories continue below