On August 26, 2020, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit cleared six Toronto police officers of wrongdoing in the May 27 death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from a 24th-floor balcony. Family members who were present at the time of her death offered, from the start, a very different account of police actions and responsibility in the death of their loved one. Initial witness reports pointed to the part played by police.
The disparity between witness and police accounts of police-involved deaths is by no means a rare occurrence. Neither is the disparity between initial police accounts of what has occurred when they kill and information that comes out later. In fact, there have been numerous instances in which police have distorted information, or lied outright in their initial public statements following a killing. We can see this in the following disturbing cases.
Character assassination and the killing of Robert Dziekański
On October 14, 2007, then-corporal Benjamin “Monty” Robinson along with three other RCMP officers, constables Gerry Rundel, Bill Bentley, and Kwesi Millington, killed Polish traveler Robert Dziekański at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The unarmed Dziekański had been tasered several times by the officers who also deployed batons and pinned the man to the ground and handcuffed him as he was dying.
Immediately following their killing of Dziekanski, the RCMP made a series of false public statements. They told a story apparently designed to denigrate Dziekański in the public eye and initially claimed he threw things and screamed and yelled after police arrived.
It was suggested that Dziekanski was intoxicated. Police also claimed only three officers attended the scene. All of this was contradicted when a bystander video taken by traveler Paul Pritchard came forward.
The video showed, contrary to the police account, that the taser was not used as a last resort but was deployed almost immediately. The video also showed that, in fact, Dziekanski did not confront officers aggressively and appeared to be following their orders (despite a language barrier as none of the officers spoke Polish).
Police took Pritchard’s video and refused to return it until he brought forward a lawsuit for its return. The Dziekanski killing put on display clearly the culture of deception and lies that marks Canadian policing in general and the RCMP in particular and was infused with lies through and through.
Not only did RCMP PR provide false statements — Robinson, the senior officer in charge during the Dziekanski killing, was later convicted of lying to an inquiry examining the events of the killing. A B.C. Supreme Court judge found Robinson guilty of perjury in 2015, ruling that he colluded with the four fellow officers to make up testimony that they presented at the inquiry into Dziekanski’s death.
Robinson was sentenced to two years in prison plus probation and 240 hours of community service for perjury.
The shootout that wasn’t: the killing of Hudson Brooks
Twenty-year-old Hudson Brooks was killed by Surrey RCMP in the early morning of July 18, 2015, outside the force’s South Surrey detachment. It has since come out that the young man was shot and killed by RCMP constable Elizabeth Cucheran.
The RCMP initially intimated in media reports that there had been an exchange of shots between Brooks and the RCMP resulting in a gunshot wound to one officer. Later police tried to claim that Brooks was suicidal, as if being suicidal could legitimize police killing someone.
The audio was apparently posted by a user who regularly uploads recordings of police-involved incidents from radio traffic and scanners. The audio revealed the chaos of police actions and confirmed the quick move by officers to deploy lethal force with virtually no interaction with, or attempt to communicate with, the young man who would become their victim.
The tape confirmed what many suspected from the start, that the RCMP officer who was shot during the encounter actually shot herself. In the audio a woman’s voice can be heard saying, “I shot myself.” This is followed by a man’s voice calling for emergency services: “Suspect is critical. We need a code. We need it now.”
This is noteworthy given that police initially used the shooting of an officer to suggest something quite different to the public. Charges were stayed against Cucheran.
Forty rounds from … ?: the killing of Nona McEwan
RCMP officers shot and killed Nona McEwan and Randy Crosson on March 29, 2019, in a home in Surrey. Police described the context of the killings as a “hostage taking.” For over a month after the killings, RCMP publicly implied that Randy Crosson had killed Nona McEwan.
When asked directly in 2019 if police might have killed McEwan, the Surrey Now-Leader reported that Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) spokesperson corporal Frank Jang replied: “Well, no, I mean we’re there to conclusively determine the cause of death. It’s a police-involved shooting of the man, as I understand, so the IIO would be investigating that. We would be investigating the other person.”
Asked further if Independent Investigations Office (IIO) involvement was because the woman was hit by a police bullet, Jang went on: “No, I mean that’s part of the investigation but because there was two deaths, one believed to be a police-involved shooting, one is not, the two agencies are simultaneously involved. There’s two separate investigations happening.”
Not long afterward the lie was put to the police portrayal when the IIO reported that RCMP had shot and killed both McEwan and Crosson. Clearly, officers at the scene and IHIT member Jang must have known that police had done the shooting.
One might also figure that they knew this as they made statements over a month that posed Crosson as potentially the killer. No non-police weapons were present.
Still, the IIO cleared the officers. The decision was made public on April 1, 2020. None of the officers involved in the killing have been named publicly. The IIO reports that the officers fired over 40 rounds in close quarters. Forty.
There has also long been a concern, a suspicion, that police claim victims of police shootings have died of self-inflicted wounds when, in fact, they were killed by officers.
One such case was confirmed in 2017 when the IIO overturned an RCMP claim that the June 18 death of a Lower Mainlander was caused by a self-inflicted wound. On June 26, the Vancouver Sun reported: “Initial reports made to the IIO … by the RCMP, suggested that a distraught male may have shot himself following an exchange of gunfire with police. Following an autopsy, it has been determined that the male’s death was not self-inflicted.”
That was an impression shaped for the public.
It says plenty about the protections afforded police who kill civilians in Canada that months after a killing even minimal details about the event are not released to the public or media. Officers involved are shielded from public scrutiny. This serves to protect the system and allows police agencies time to reconstruct events, and their stories, to suit their own interests. Meanwhile, victims’ loved ones are victimized again.
Jeff Shantz is a longtime union member, currently with Local 5 of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE, B.C. Federation of Labour). He is a founding organizer with Anti-Police Power Surrey ([email protected]), a grassroots community group in Surrey (Unceded Coast Salish territories). He teaches on corporate crime and community advocacy at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. His publications include Manufacturing Phobias: The Political Production of Fear in Theory and Practice (University of Toronto Press), and the Crisis and Resistance trilogy (Punctum Books).