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Police shootings in 2021: Experts say number in Canada remains too high

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Police shootings in 2021: Experts say number in Canada remains too high

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Despite growing calls for changes in policing, the number of officer shootings in Canada remains too high, according to criminology experts.

Police officers on duty shot 64 people in Canada between January 1 and November 30. Exactly half were killed. Seven are unharmed.

“I am deeply concerned by the relentless nature of this problem. There is nothing inevitable or natural about this problem,” said Temitope Oriola, professor of criminology at the University of Alberta and former special adviser. of the province in a review of its policy. Act.

The Canadian Press followed each shooting with information from police, independent investigative units and independent reporting.

The resulting snapshot shows that not much has changed since 2020, when global movements called for more accountability and transparency from the police.

This year, the number of police shootings has so far equaled the total for 2020, when 60 people were shot and 36 of them were killed. That year, five shootings took place in December and the youngest was a one-year-old boy killed in Ontario.

There have been at least three deadly shootings this month, which were not included in the Canadian Press tally.

In 2021, young men continued to constitute the vast majority of those shot by police.

There was also a disproportionate number of people of color. The breed could be identified in 17 shootings. Over 50 percent involved Aboriginal people and 17 percent were Black.

Oriola has said that policing requires a level of force, and in some situations it can be legitimate. Police shootings remain rare in Canada compared to other countries, including the United States, he said, but the number remains troubling.

In just over 26 percent of cases this year, the reason the police were originally called was because of the guns. This was followed by calls regarding a domestic assault or a person of interest in an ongoing investigation.

In 81% of shootings, the person had a gun. In 52%, it was a knife or other sharp weapon; in 31 percent, the person had a gun.

In six shootings, the police had been called to carry out a welfare check. Four people were killed.

Usually officers are dispatched to check whether mental health or well-being is a concern. Critics have called on the police to change the way officers respond to such calls. There have been nine fatal police shootings that started as welfare checks in 2020.

Experts say there needs to be more context when tracking numbers. In many cases, a person can be in a mental health crisis and have a gun. They say the police need to show more restraint and society needs better support for those who need it.

Julian Jones, 28, was shot and killed by the RCMP on the Opitsaht reservation on Meares Island, British Columbia, in late February.

Community members said they asked officers for a welfare check, but police said the call involved a woman being held against her will. The death prompted questions about officers who frequented First Nations communities.

For the first time, the Independent Investigations Office, which is investigating police shootings in British Columbia, allowed a member of the Indigenous community to act as a civilian observer during the review.

Erick Laming, a member of the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation and professor of criminology at Trent University, said his research shows that the use of force by police has increased in recent years.

Laming was the co-author of a recent study for the Canadian Criminal Justice Association on the use of force. He revealed that between 2010 and 2019 fatal RCMP shootings increased by 39% and non-fatal shootings by 50%.

There was also a 12% increase in the number of mounted police pointing guns at civilians.

In 2021, the RCMP had the most shots of any police force. The gendarmes were involved in 23 – up from 15 last year.

The Toronto Police Department was involved in six shootings, the Ontario Provincial Police had five, and the Quebec Suerte and Edmonton Police Department each had four.

After five last year, there have been no police shootings in Winnipeg. Laming said this shows how difficult it is to compare year over year. But, he added, it might be helpful to see what officers in Manitoba’s capital have done differently.

Elsewhere in the country, there has been a significant increase in shootings. British Columbia has seen an increase of over 110% – to 13 from five in 2020.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who studies police, said the main difficulty in understanding police use of force in Canada is the lack of a national database.

“It is difficult to know how many people are killed by the police and what the outcome of those deaths is,” he said.

“What we need is better data collection, better data reporting and more transparency from the agencies that collect this information.”

Owusu-Bempah said he never expected global protests to result in immediate change on the front lines of law enforcement in Canada. But, he said, the ongoing discussions are important.

“In terms of cultural or institutional change, these take time.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 27, 2021.

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