Families say Quebec police watchdog leaving them out of deadly shooting probes
Eight months after their 27-year-old son Noam was fatally shot by Montreal police following a car chase, Jacob and Rachel Cohen still have more questions than answers about why he died.
Since Quebec’s police watchdog has taken over the investigation, the family still doesn’t know how many policemen were at the scene, whether there were civil witnesses or video surveillance, what conversations took place over police radio, or whether proper investigative protocols were followed, they said through a family spokesperson.
“You don’t know what’s happening, you’re scared to live a second injustice,” said Michele Cohen.
“One, (that you) lose your son, and two, that light won’t be made on the events that took place.”
The family is one of several who are criticizing Quebec’s bureau des enquetes independentes, known as the BEI, for a lack of transparency after a lawyer raised the issue earlier this week.
The family members reached by The Canadian Press say they’ve had trouble getting updates on the deaths of their loved ones, and some say they have little faith in the independence of the process to investigate police-involved shootings and deaths.
Earlier this week, lawyers representing the family of a Montreal man who died during a police intervention last June announced they are suing the city over his death and released a video that allegedly shows the incident.
Lawyer Alain Arsenault said that Pierre Coriolan’s family decided to release the video in part because they haven’t been able to get answers about how he died.
“The BEI is currently ensuring that the family cannot have Pierre Coriolan’s autopsy report, so we cannot tell you today whether it was two bullets, three bullets, two shots of Taser, three shots,” he said.
In a news release following the June incident, the investigations unit said Coriolan was distressed and holding a screwdriver in each hand when police responded to a disturbance complaint at a housing complex in Montreal’s gay village.
Police first used a Taser and rubber bullets on Coriolan, the watchdog reported, but eventually drew their service weapons when those methods failed to subdue him.
The watchdog group was created in 2016 in response to criticism over the previous policy of calling in a second police force to investigate officer-involved shootings.
But Arseneault said Wednesday that the bureau has a “credibility problem” stemming from the fact that most of its members have a police background, either as ex-officers or civilian police employees.
WATCH BELOW: Video shows deadly struggle
In Noam Cohen’s case, the family wonders why the initial news release following the death appeared to be drawn entirely from the account of police officers involved at the scene.
Michele Cohen said the release, which states that the 27-year-old had tried to hit a road worker with his car and then accelerated towards police officers, contains unverified information that could prejudice other witnesses.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the bureau said that it understands the impatience felt by families and tries to keep them informed whenever possible.
But Martin Bonin-Charron said parts of the investigation need to be kept confidential for legal reasons.
“This is particularly true of the content of the various expert reports, including autopsy reports, which are not public documents and have never been, even before the BEI’s entry into operation,” he wrote.
But when investigations take months or years, the wait for a final report can be frustrating, according to Dave Dupont Rivard, whose brother Francis died after an altercation with Quebec provincial police in Oct. 2016.
He said the family got “no information whatsoever” from investigators until the final report was filed the following June.
He was also critical of the report’s findings, which he believes downplays the statements of witnesses who alleged the police had acted wrongly when they tried to subdue the agitated 29-year-old and did not do enough to save him.
“I will always be convinced that there was an error on the part of the police but there’s nothing we can do, because we’re talking about a simple citizen up against police, who represent the law,” Dave Dupont Rivard said in a written exchange.
Sylvia Simioni Boire, whose son Patrice died in a car crash last March after being pursued by Quebec provincial police, said the investigator who met with her initially was kind and informative.
But now, almost a year later, she hasn’t been able to find out how the probe has progressed or even if it’s still open.
She feels the lack of sensitivity shown towards families reflects an attitude that the victims are to blame for their own deaths.
“I don’t know, they’re not too compassionate,” she said.
“They say it’s our guys who ran after them, but we’ll never know the bottom of the story.”
© 2018 The Canadian Press