B.C.’s police watchdog has found an officer acted lawfully in shooting a suspect who was involved in a standoff with RCMP near Bear Creek Provincial Park in West Kelowna in September 2019.
Several campers at the nearby Bear Creek campground told the B.C. IIO that they heard the RCMP officer repeatedly tell the suspect to “put your weapon down, stop or I’ll have to shoot,” before hearing a shot fired.
The suspect’s injuries were not life-threatening.
Before midnight on Sept. 12, 2019, police were at Westside Road near the log booms on the west shore of Okanagan Lake across from Kelowna to investigate a report of a man threatening a driver with a large stick.
RCMP had said the suspect attempted to evade arrest by climbing onto the log booms where he stayed for several hours before his arrest.
At the time of the incident, RCMP did not reveal publicly that the suspect had been shot by an officer.
The officer who shot the suspect told the IIO that he found the suspect walking in the middle of the road with “what appeared to be a spear and metal garden shears.”
The suspect told investigators that the officer who was first on the scene immediately unsnapped the safety strap on his holster, and that prompted him to evade arrest.
Despite being ordered to put down what he was carrying and to identify himself, the officer said the suspect ran off and tried to hide.
When the suspect was told he would be arrested for obstruction, the officer told the IIO, the man “produced a knife and threatened to kill” the officer with it.
After further threatening comments and gestures, according to the officer’s account, the suspect “raised his spear in a throwing action.”
The officer said he shot the suspect to “stop the threat.”
While the suspect told the IIO he was shot from behind, the IIO stated in its report that the entrance wound was in the suspect’s front left hip area and the exit wound appeared to be in his buttock.
The officer was concerned for the safety of people in the campground that the suspect was approaching and for his own safety, the IIO report states.
The IIO quotes five civilian witnesses in its report. Four said they heard the interaction from the nearby campground, but none saw the shooting itself.
Following the suspect’s arrest the next morning, RCMP recovered a metal pole and gardening shears near the shore of Okanagan Lake, but they did not find a knife.
The IIO investigator stated it was possible the knife was disposed of in deeper water in an area by the log booms that was not searched.
The metal pole was long enough to bridge the distance between the officer and the suspect and to potentially cause the officer bodily harm, the report states.
The report concluded that in the circumstances, the officer’s actions in shooting the suspect were necessary for his self-defence and were not excessive or unreasonable.
“I do not consider that there are reasonable grounds to believe that an officer may have committed an offence under any enactment and therefore the matter will not be referred to Crown counsel for consideration of charges,” concluded Ronald J. MacDonald, chief civilian director of the B.C. IIO.