This past Thursday, Ottawa Police constables Thanh Tran and Daniel Vincelette were involved in the shooting death of Greg Ritchie, who was on his way to a pharmacy at the Elmvale Acres Shopping Centre on St. Laurent Boulevard.
The 30-year-old Indigenous man was reportedly hit multiple times by police bullets and was later pronounced dead at the Ottawa Hospital’s civic campus trauma unit.
There are unknowns about the exact circumstances of Ritchie's death.
A media release from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) states, "At least one police officer discharged his firearm and the man was struck."
The Ottawa Citizen reports, "It’s believed both officers fired their guns, but it’s unknown if bullets from both weapons hit Ritchie, who was shot multiple times."
A CBC article quotes witness Shireen Moodley, who says she heard multiple rapid-fire gunshots and that Ritchie sustained multiple gunshot wounds to his chest.
There are contradictory details in the media reports about what led to the police being called to the shopping mall.
The CBC reports that Ritchie was "holding a knife in his hand," while an Ottawa Citizen article reports that Ritchie was alternatingly "axe-wielding," “carrying a weapon," and that he was "armed with a small axe."
The SIU has not specified what Ritchie was holding.
And while the provincial SIU is now investigating to determine what led to the police shooting Ritchie, Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau has already told CTV, "I've spoken to the officers involved and have had a conversation with them today, so they knew that we were there for them. With everything that's going on, they're doing okay."
The CTV article did not note any concerns Bordeleau may have about Ritchie’s family, the role systemic racism and racial bias could have played in the death, or Tran’s past record.
CBC has noted, "In September 2011, the SIU charged Tran and another officer with assault causing bodily harm following the arrest of an intoxicated 50-year-old homeless man. Two years later, both officers were acquitted."
The Ottawa Citizen gives more details on that incident.
It notes, "[Two officers were] charged with assaulting a man sleeping on a Sandy Hill sidewalk in 2011, after that man was taken to hospital with facial fractures."
It also notes that "Tran and the other officer were accused of tripping and pushing the man face first onto the pavement around 5:30 a.m. on August 13, 2011 after rousing him from sleep next to two empty bottles of Listerine."
Nicholas Ritchie, Ritchie's older brother, says that his brother was taking medication for mental health issues worsened by his experiences as a child.
CBC reports, "The two brothers were both victims of the Sixties Scoop, taken away from their Indigenous family near Owen Sound, on the Saugeen First Nation, and placed with white foster and adoptive families."
The Sixties Scoop, which took place between the 1950s and the 1980s, saw an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children taken from their families.
The United Nations definition of genocide includes "forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
The CBC article adds, "Ritchie said that experience caused his brother's mental health to deteriorate."
News reports have also noted that Ritchie had addiction issues and had been homeless. But that’s far from a full picture of the man. The Aboriginal Services office at Conestoga College in Kitchener posted on social media that Ritchie was "a beautiful soul with a passion for cultural preservation and strong connection to the land."
Christine Restoule, the manager of that office, has shared that Ritchie would tend to the sacred fire at their annual pow wow, that he found peace in nature, and that several years ago he was part of a group that built a birchbark canoe and paddled it on the Grand River.
Linda Heritage, a clinical therapist at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, has commented on why Ritchie may have been afraid when the police approached him at the mall.
She says, "Our people have come through so much. If you think of the residential schools, our children were taken and often were chased down by the police."
Chantel Ritchie, Ritchie’s sister-in-law, has also commented to the media, "He's First Nations, he's been homeless before, and he is afraid. People just take all of that in one look and then make assumptions and then act on it."
She adds, "It just really hurts that we weren't there to be able to calm him down because there's no way that any of this would have happened if we were there. There's no way."
The system is not likely to offer answers or justice.
Following the death of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi at the hands of Ottawa Police in July 2016, CBC reported Larry Hill, a retired deputy chief with the Ottawa Police, commenting that the SIU would not likely investigate whether "racial bias" was a factor in that death.
And yet, reports have indicated that Indigenous people are six times more likely to be stopped by Edmonton police than white people and while Indigenous people make up just two per cent of the population of Vancouver, they make up 16 per cent of those stopped by the police without cause and asked for their identification.
Furthermore, as Toronto-based writer Andray Domise wrote in Maclean’s magazine: "In the 2014-15 reporting year, 94.9 per cent of officers investigated by the SIU were cleared."
Domise adds, "Virtually all SIU investigators are white men over the age of 50. Most are former police officers themselves who think nothing of brandishing their police pins, rings, and tie clips about their bodies while they interview witnesses."
Greg Ritchie deserves justice, we all need answers, and actions need to be taken to ensure that tragic incidents like this one never happen again.
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