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Family of B.C. man killed by police hopes inquest can prevent future ‘suicide by cop’

Click to play video: 'Inquest into death of Barry Shantz begins'
Inquest into death of Barry Shantz begins
WATCH: A coroners inquest into the 2020 death of Barry Shantz has begun, with his sister testifying. Shantz was shot and killed by police following a multi-hour standoff, and his family is calling for police to change how they deal with mental health calls. Grace Ke reports – Jul 4, 2023

A coroner’s inquest into the fatal police shooting of a well-known B.C. advocate for the homeless began in Burnaby on Tuesday.

Barry Shantz was shot by police at his home in Lytton, ending a six-hour standoff on Jan. 13, 2020.

“Barry wanted the police to kill him, and unfortunately that’s what the police turned up and did,” Tonia Grace, a lawyer for Shantz’s sister Marilyn Farquhar, said outside the coroner’s court in Burnaby.

“The focus, particularly for Marilyn as Barry’s sister, is how we can prevent this happening again, and when somebody calls and says I want suicide by cop, they don’t get suicide by cop, they get a mental health professional that can deescalate, talk with them, connect with them, talk them down, they get their family members to speak to them, people that they trust, that they respect.”

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Shantz led numerous initiatives advocating for unhoused people in the Fraser Valley, including spearheading several court challenges over the treatment of Abbotsford’s homeless population.

He also suffered from mental health issues.

The Independent Investigations Office, which probes all cases of death or serious harm in interactions with police, cleared officers of any wrongdoing in the fatal shooting.

The IIO’s report found that on the day of his death, Shantz was with two other people when he became distressed, told them to call 911, and spoke of “waiting for one hundred police officers before he died and that he had acquired a shotgun.”

According to the IIO, when officers responded, Shantz fired a shot from inside the building prompting police to call for backup as well as deployment of an emergency response team and crisis negotiator.

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Shantz later told police over the phone that at 2:06 p.m. he’d exit the building and that “I want six shots in my body please. I am going to walk towards the armed officers with my shotgun…” the IIO found.

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Shantz ultimately followed through on his pledge to exit the home shortly after 2 p.m. with his loaded shotgun and was subsequently shot by police.

“Crisis negotiators and family members had talked with (Shantz) and he had remained adamant that he wanted to force a police officer to shoot him by threatening officers around the house with his firearm,” the IIO concluded.

Shantz’ sister, however, said neither she nor Shantz’ adult son were informed of the standoff by police, and that his son learned of the incident through the media.

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She also questions why there was time to bring an emergency response team and police negotiator to the site, but not a mental health worker.

“They had six hours of a standoff to bring somebody in. They had a helicopter there bringing in police officers, but didn’t bring in a mental health professional,” she said. “They didn’t call his family; they didn’t call his son – people that maybe could have made a difference.”

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Farquhar acknowledged her brother had a difficult life, including time in prison, but said that experience helped change his life, and that when he got out he did “a lot of good work.”

She said she later visited the community in Abbotsford where he’d been active, where he was remembered by many people still experiencing homelessness.

“They gave me their condolences while sitting on the cold concrete. They asked if they could do a memorial of Barry, would I mind?” she said. “It was very touching.”

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Farquhar said in the weeks before his death, Shantz had told her he felt he was a “piece of s–t,” who had caused sorrow and heartache and was living with pain he couldn’t handle.

“I share this because I want people to understand. I want them to understand what despair looks like and sounds like so they recognize it in their own loved ones,” she said.

She added she has no intention of pursuing any kind of legal case or bid for compensation over her brother’s death, only to advocate to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Grace said she intends to push for answers as to why police weren’t able to connect with key family members or mental health workers who could potentially have de-escalated the situation over the course of the six-hour standoff.

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“We don’t know those answers yet, that’s what we’re trying to find out,” she said.

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