N.B. coroner’s inquest told community policing model would have saved Indigenous man

Click to play video: 'Inquest witness says community policing could have saved Rodney Levi'
Inquest witness says community policing could have saved Rodney Levi
WATCH: The coroner’s inquest looking into the death of Rodney Levi has heard its first testimony Wednesday. Six witnesses were called to explain their involvement in the case, and one said a community policing model that used to be in place might have helped prevent Levi’s death. Callum Smith reports – Sep 29, 2021

The uncle of an Indigenous man shot dead by police in New Brunswick in 2020 told a coroner’s inquest Wednesday his nephew would be alive today had a former community policing model not been disbanded.

Funding for the program that involved band officers and RCMP members was cancelled about eight years ago, Ken Levi told a five-member coroner’s jury investigating the death of Rodney Levi. He said he’s 100 per cent convinced community officers would have been able to diffuse the situation.

“We would already know it was Rodney,” Ken Levi told reporters outside the hearing Wednesday. “We would have called family. We would have responded and I’m pretty sure he would have come.”

The man 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 nearby Sunny Corner, N.B.

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Ken Levi, who is now a federal fisheries officer, said he had been a member of the community policing program before it was disbanded. Supernumerary constables, he said, knew the people in the community and spoke their language. In most cases, he added, people causing problems would be calmed and taken home without serious confrontations.

Click to play video: 'Culturally diverse jury selected for Rodney Levi coroner’s inquest'
Culturally diverse jury selected for Rodney Levi coroner’s inquest

The shooting of Rodney Levi was investigated by Quebec’s police watchdog, the Bureau des enquetes independantes, which submitted a report to New Brunswick prosecutors in December. Quebec prosecutors have said officers at the scene believed Levi – who was wielding two large knives – was using force against them, and that they shot him to protect themselves and others.

In January 2021, New Brunswick’s Public Prosecutions Service said no criminal charges would be filed against police officers involved in the fatal shooting.

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Police had tried to subdue Levi three times using an electroshock weapon before they shot him twice. An autopsy confirmed Levi had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his body at the time of the shooting.

The inquest also heard Wednesday from forensic pathologist Dr. Ken Obenson, who conducted the autopsy on Levi’s body in June 2020. He confirmed Levi died as a result of two gunshot wounds to the chest.

Coroner John Evans said Tuesday he expected to hear from about 27 witnesses before the hearings wrap next week.

“It’s a fact-finding mission … so the public will know what exactly happened,” Evans told reporters. “You are going to hear from the people who were present when this event happened, which include some members of the RCMP. You’re also going to hear from the pathologist and toxicologist and so on.”

Click to play video: 'Rodney Levi’s family say their fight to get answers not over'
Rodney Levi’s family say their fight to get answers not over

Evans said the inquest would also hear evidence about the RCMP’s crisis intervention model and about police training.

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The jury is composed of two men and three women, Evans said, adding that two jurors are Indigenous and another married into an Indigenous family. “Having a jury with gender balance and cultural balance I think is going to be very, very helpful,” he said.

Levi’s sister, Rhoda Levi, said Tuesday she was pleased with the jury selection and hoped the province would act on the inquest’s recommendations.

“I hope that the government does everything it can to implement so that no one else is shot and killed by the RCMP,” she told reporters.

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 anger in the province’s Indigenous community.

A coroner’s inquest does not assign blame but issues recommendations intended to help prevent a death under similar circumstances in the future.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2021.

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