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SIRT investigation finds police killing was justified, but questions remain

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Serious Incident Report Team (SIRT) has found that the killing of a civilian by RCMP police in Eastern Passage on July 20, 2020 was justified, given the circumstances.   

SIRT is the organization tasked in this province with the investigation of interactions between police and civilians that involve death, serious injury, or sexual assault.

However, the SIRT summary report, as is so often the case, raises questions that remain unanswered. Meanwhile, media in Nova Scotia typically merely echo the SIRT conclusion.

This is what happened in Eastern Passage.

The 60-year old man who got killed was drunk and held what police and others believed to be a real gun, but what later turned out to be an unloaded air gun pistol. 

Police were called by his mother, who felt threatened by the man.  

Before the incident the man has told several people he wished to die, the SIRT report states.

When the police arrived the man was sitting on the deck of the house with the gun in his hand. Other people were around.

An officer “attempted to de-escalate the situation by telling the AP to do certain things such as “drop the gun”, “put the gun down and show me your hands” and “put your hands in the air”, the report tells us. The man did not comply. 

Next an officer shot a rubber bullet at the man, but missed. When the man in reaction pointed the gun at the officers, one officer fired four rounds of live ammunition, killing the man on the scene.

Felix Cacchione, the SIRT director and author of the report, found that the force used by police was measured and justified. Police didn’t know that the gun was no threat, and feared for their lives and the lives of others present at the scene, Cacchione concludes.

However, there is more to de-escalation than telling somebody “to drop the gun and show your hands,” which is what the entire de-escalation effort amounted to.

We will never know if another approach, one with more emphasis on building rapport with the man who was clearly in the middle of a mental health crisis, could have prevented the man’s untimely death. Cachione will tell you that isn’t within the scope of his job.  

Nonetheless, we should continue to ask the question.

See also: Judy Haiven: The Halifax man who fell to his death while five police officers looked on

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