The lawyer representing Rodney Levi’s family worries about a “structural barrier” as part of New Brunswick coroner’s inquests that could result in a lack of representation.
“New Brunswick is the only jurisdiction in the country that does not permit families to have standings in inquest proceedings,” says Alisa Lombard, a partner at Semaganis Worme Lombard in Saskatoon, “and so, of course, the concern there is, how will the late Rodney Levi be given voice, and will the family’s lack of standing render him voiceless?”
The policy means no members of his family or Lombard herself will be able to speak or question witnesses.
“We are not confident that the full breadth of evidence that should be before the inquest will be on account of this structural barrier,” she says.
The coroner’s inquest, which begins Tuesday, will publicly hear evidence from witnesses to determine facts surrounding Levi’s death.
Lombard says the family is hoping for serious inquiry into the happenings around his death, and not just in the encounter with police.
“They’re holding strong onto the hope that there will be a full review of the evidence, that that evidence will be thoughtfully considered, that this will illuminate the truth, of course, and that there will be recommendations for accountability and prevention,” Lombard says.
The formal proceeding — with jurors and presiding coroner — does not make any finding of legal responsibility.
When the inquest concludes, the jury will be able to make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future.
The shooting and the investigation
Levi, who was from the Metepenagiag First Nation, was shot dead by the RCMP on the evening of June 12, 2020 after police responded to a complaint about a disturbance in a home in Sunny Corner, N.B.
The incident was investigated by Quebec’s police watchdog, the Bureau des Enquetes independantes, which submitted a report to New Brunswick prosecutors in December.
A statement from the prosecutions service in January said it is clear the officers on the scene believed Levi was using force against them, and he was shot to protect themselves and civilians who were present.
“This action followed repeated attempts to engage with Mr. Levi peacefully, and followed several applications of a Taser to disarm him from the dangerous weapons (knives) he refused to yield,” the statement said.
The prosecutions service concluded the police officers in question were acting lawfully to protect the residents of the home that evening.
“The evidence presented to Public Prosecutions Services does not establish a reasonable prospect of conviction, and therefore, we will not proceed with criminal charges,” it said.
Levi’s killing came days after an Edmundston, N.B., police officer shot and killed Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, during a wellness check. The two killings sparked dismay and anger in the province’s Indigenous community along with demands for a full inquiry.
A summary of evidence prepared by the prosecutions service says an autopsy confirmed Levi died from gunshot wounds to the chest. Witnesses told investigators Levi had been acting erratically, and a toxicology report revealed the presence of traces of amphetamine and methamphetamine in his body, the report said.
The report summarizes what investigators heard from witnesses, though it does not name them. One woman, identified as a close relative of Levi, did not witness the shooting but spoke of his state of mind and intent on June 12, 2020.
She said Levi had been living in her home for a few days and was very depressed, according to the report.
“He kept talking about suicide and more specifically about ‘suicide by RCMP,’” the report says.
The witness tried to dissuade Levi, but suicide by RCMP was all he would talk about. She never saw him again after he left her home on the afternoon of June 12.
The report states that four witnesses at the home in Sunny Corner believed Levi was under the influence of something when he took knives from the kitchen of the home and began waving them around. He refused to put down the knives, and two people called 911.
The witnesses said the officers were calm and tried to defuse the situation but Levi refused to drop the knives.
They said Levi was hit with a stun gun three times by police and at one point said something to the effect of “you’ll have to put a bullet in me,” the report says. The witnesses said Levi “lunged” or “charged” at one of the officers, who then opened fire.
The evidence included a 37-second video filmed by a witness, which shows Levi being hit with the stun gun three times. After the third time, Levi drops one of his knives but immediately picks it back up and seconds later is moving toward one of the officers with the knives pointed toward him, according to the report. The sound of two shots follows.
The officer who fired the shots told investigators Levi was about three to five feet away from him and he perceived a “threat of death or grievous bodily harm” when he fired.
In its statement, the prosecutions service said the decision not to lay charges against the officers does not “diminish the tragedy of the event.” It said Levi’s death is “a pain shared by members of the Metepenagiag First Nation and residents of neighbouring communities that cared about him.”
-With files from The Canadian Press