Police Killings of Indigenous People Mock Reconciliation

Truth and Reconciliation be damned. That should have been front page news in Canada last week —  from coast to coast.

Chantel Moore’s crime: woken by police at 2.30 am, she was scared

In Fredericton, a public inquest into the police shooting of Chantel Moore took place.  In 2020, Moore, a 26-year-old mother of one, was shot four times at point blank range by an Edmundston police constable.   Her crime was that she was Indigenous.  Her crime was she was sleeping on her couch in her own apartment, after drinking up to five beers.  Her crime was that when she was woken by a stranger (a cop) rapping at her window at 2.30 in the morning, she was not quite awake.  But she was scared so she grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen.  She cautiously opened her door with the knife in her hand.  Bear in mind it had been less than two months since Gabriel Wortman — wearing a fake police uniform and driving in a mock police cruiser —had impersonated a police officer in order to shoot 22 unsuspecting people in central Nova Scotia.

However, at the inquest, Cst Jeremy Son insisted he felt his life was in danger because she had a knife. So he shot her once in the leg, once in the abdomen and twice in the chest with his service revolver. 

Moore was from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on Vancouver Island.  She had recently moved to Edmundston to begin a new life with her five-year-old daughter Gracie who was living with  her mother, Martha Martin.  Earlier on the night of Moore’s death, the Edmundston police said they received a phone call from Moore’s ex-boyfriend who lived in Toronto.  He said he was concerned about some text messages from someone who might have been stalking Moore.   He asked the police to check on her.

Unbelievably — the Edmundston police thought it was appropriate to do a “wellness check” at 2.30 a.m. on the basis of a phone call from someone who had read some texts.  And the wellness check – as they so often do with Indigenous people and people of colour – ended in a civilian’s death at the hands of the police. 

Clockwise: photo of Rodney Levi (submitted by Tara Louise Perley); friends and relatives of Chantel Moore gather at inquest; photo of Chantel Moore (submitted by Martha Martin); Friends and relatives of Nadine Machiskinic hold a media conference (Troy Fleece/Regina Leader-Post); Martha Martin, centre, outside Moore inquest.

The inquest into Moore’s death was a week long.   There was tremendous support for Moore’s family and friends by Indigenous communities throughout the province.  Several days ago, Wolastoqi singer, musician and Polaris Music Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher sang and drummed Moore’s family and supporters into the inquest room.  You can listen to it here.

The recommendations of the inquest will not bring Martha Martin’s daughter back to her, or granddaughter Gracie’s mother back to her. The inquest jury found that Moore’s death was a homicide.  The police have six months to respond to recommendations including the need for improved police training, the requirement  that police carry tasers [to avoid use of firearms if possible], and that police should work in pairs – not alone as Son did.  The inquest jury’s recommendations noted a mistrust of police in Indigenous communities, and suggested police be given cultural sensitivity training, or that the province appoint a First Nation’s community liaison person.

“Why are we not angry? Why are we not demanding change?”

One of Moore’s family members pointedly asked if any of the recommendations which were similar to those made six months before at the inquest into Rodney Levi’s death (see below)  were ever implemented.    

Moore’s mother, Martha Martin, has also filed a lawsuit against the city of Edmundston and  Constable Son who  “grossly demonstrated significant errors in judgment and analysis throughout the wellness check, leading to the death of the late Chantel Moore.”

Martin’s speech outside the inquest room was very telling.  She said it’s time for action, not merely recommendations:  

“Why are we not angry? Why are we not demanding change? No more recommendations, we’ve had enough. We want to see change.”

She read the names of some of the people killed directly or indirectly by police.  Her own son, Mike, took his own life while in police custody in BC, five months after Chantel died. Martin continued,

“Our children should be able to walk out that door, and we shouldn’t have to worry that they are not going to walk back through those doors.”

Martha Martin, May 2022

The six chiefs of the Wolastoqi Nation in New Brunswick echoed Martin’s concerns. The chiefs’ statement said the inquest showed the “urgent need” for an Indigenous-led inquiry into systemic racism. The chiefs’ noted that the jury’s findings “do not address the serious nature of the tragedy, or the systemic issues embedded in the justice system.”

“We need action, we need justice”

“This reflects a failure by the Blaine Higgs [New Brunswick] government to address the root cause of Chantel Moore’s death, and tragedies like it.” As one chief noted, “We need action, we need justice. … No justice, no peace.”

At the time of the Moore inquest, federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said at a press conference, “I don’t understand how someone dies during a wellness check.” Yet a 2017 CTV News analysis reveals some shocking statistics.   An Indigenous person in Canada is more than 10 times more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than a white person. And, between 2017 and 2020, 25 Indigenous people were shot and killed by the RCMP alone.  Rodney Levi was one of them. 

Rodney Levi: Another police killing in New Brunswick

On June 12, 2020, eight days after Moore’s murder, Rodney Levi aged 48, was shot by RCMP near his home near Sunny Corner, New Brunswick.  Levi was from Metepenagiag First Nation.  Jurors at his inquest also ruled that his death was a homicide.  Yet no policeman was charged.

Police foot-dragging about a missing Indigenous woman

To the Vancouver Police (VPD), it wasn’t murder, nor was it a “suspicious” death. However Chelsea Poorman, a young Cree woman, was found dead in late last month, in the garden of a vacant mansion in the luxury neighbourhood of Shaughnessy. Part of her skull was missing and three of her fingers had been severed.  Poorman had been missing from her Vancouver home for 18 months where she had moved from her family  home in Regina, Sk.

“It just seemed like they didn’t care. I felt like Chelsea didn’t matter to anybody.”

mother Sheila Poorman

Chelsea’s mother, Sheila Poorman, reported Chelsea missing a day after her disappearance, on Sept. 7, 2020. But the VPD did not act on the information for 10 days.  Poorman told the police that Chelsea was a vulnerable person, as she had a mental disability and physical disabilities—both stemming from a catastrophic car accident in 2014.  Her disability meant she was less mature than her 24 years; she had metal rods in her arm and leg and wore a leg brace. About the police reaction to her daughter’s disappearance, Poorman said, “It just seemed like they didn’t care. I felt like Chelsea didn’t matter to anybody.”

Poorman, with her other daughter Paige, decided to poster flyers with pictures of her missing daughter around Vancouver.  But it took the VPD two months to refer the case to homicide detectives.  As Poorman noted,

“I’m like, ‘I told you guys in the beginning that’s she’s vulnerable.’ I said, ‘Now, two months later, you’re going to come to me and say now you’re taking this case seriously? I was horrified.”

Sheila Poorman

Still, the police refused to  take Chelsea’s disappearance very seriously.  After she had been missing for 18 months, a tradesman working on the house found her body in the mansion’s back garden.  Still, it took  the police two weeks to tell the family that her body had been discovered.     

The murder scene at the hotel was a five-minute walk from police headquarters, but Regina police did nothing for 60 hours

Many police investigations of Indigenous women in cities across the country are just as flawed.  Five years prior to Chelsea’s disappearance, in January 2015 in Regina, Nadine Machiskinic, a 29-year-old mother of four, was found severely injured and dying on the laundry room floor of the Delta Hotel.  According to the National Post, though the hotel was a five-minute walk from Regina police headquarters, it took 60 hours before police began to investigate her death.  Machiskinic had fallen—or been pushed — 30 metres (10 storeys) – down a hotel laundry chute.  Two autopsies each decided a different cause of death,  the first was  “accidental”, and the second was “undetermined.” 

Clockwise: Cst. Jeremy Son, at Moore inquest (The Canadian Press/Kevin Bissett); Nadine Machiskinic (contributed by Delores Stevenson); Memorial erected outside the Vancouver mansion where Moore was found dead; photo of Chelsea Poorman (FB posting); Sheila Poorman posts signs on Granville St. Vancouver to find Chelsea (CBC/Ken Leedham)

It took the police one year to bother to obtain a full hotel guest list for that night. When when they did, half the names had been wiped from the database when  the hotel had changed ownership.  On a hotel video, two men were seen in an elevator with Machiskinic that night. But when the police tracked them down out of province (months later), they denied having been at the hotel that night.  Machiskinic’s family attended the inquest in 2017, but since that time, police have all but dropped the case.

What is to be done?

It’s been seven years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission announced its historic and radical 94 Calls to Action.  Among them were several that had a bearing on the cases you read above.  For example, Call to Action 39 demands a “national plan to collect and publish data on criminal victimization of Aboriginal people, including data related to homicide.”  Call to Action Number 40 says that there must be “Aboriginal specific” victims’ programs and services.  Call to Action 41 demands there be a public inquiry and investigation into the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls.

This last demand was met by the federal government convening the National Inquiry into  Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIGWG). In 2019, the Inquiry released its final report along with 18 detailed Calls to Justice.

Calls to Justice are clear

Call to Justice #9 details how the policing of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people must be changed.  The demands include:  equitable funding for an Indigenous police service and Indigenous civil police oversight bodies and the recruitment of Indigenous people for all police services.  There is also the demand that training of all police recruits must include a “history of police in oppression and genocide of Indigenous people.”

The real truth is that there are more than 4000 missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls over the last three decades     Dozens of Indigenous people have been killed by police or while in police custody.   More than 50% of women in federal prisons are Indigenous, though Indigenous women make up only  4.9% of Canada’s female population.  Police across the country continue to ignore and/or perpetrate massive victimization of Indigenous people.  Racism and lack of serious consequences (such as murder charges against police in homicide cases) allow the police to keep using their  lethal power to kill Indigenous people —with impunity.  When will that change?

Featured Image: Prayers By The Lake by Pam Cailloux. Cailloux is a Metis artist from Chibougamau, Quebec.


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