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SIU Director’s Report - Case # 19-OCI-179

Contents:

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Mandate of the SIU

The Special Investigations Unit is a civilian law enforcement agency that investigates incidents involving police officers where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. The Unit’s jurisdiction covers more than 50 municipal, regional and provincial police services across Ontario.

Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must determine based on the evidence gathered in an investigation whether an officer has committed a criminal offence in connection with the incident under investigation. If, after an investigation, there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offence was committed, the Director has the authority to lay a criminal charge against the officer. Alternatively, in all cases where no reasonable grounds exist, the Director does not lay criminal charges but files a report with the Attorney General communicating the results of an investigation.

Information Restrictions

Freedom of Information and Protection of Personal Privacy Act (“FIPPA”)

Pursuant to section 14 of FIPPA (i.e., law enforcement), certain information may not be included in this report. This information may include, but is not limited to, the following:
  • Confidential investigative techniques and procedures used by law enforcement agencies; and
  • Information whose release could reasonably be expected to interfere with a law enforcement matter or an investigation undertaken with a view to a law enforcement proceeding. 
Pursuant to section 21 of FIPPA (i.e., personal privacy), protected personal information is not included in this document. This information may include, but is not limited to, the following:
  • Subject Officer name(s);
  • Witness Officer name(s);
  • Civilian Witness name(s);
  • Location information; 
  • Witness statements and evidence gathered in the course of the investigation provided to the SIU in confidence; and 
  • Other identifiers which are likely to reveal personal information about individuals involved in the investigation.


Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004 (“PHIPA”)

Pursuant to PHIPA, any information related to the personal health of identifiable individuals is not included.

Other proceedings, processes, and investigations

Information may have also been excluded from this report because its release could undermine the integrity of other proceedings involving the same incident, such as criminal proceedings, coroner’s inquests, other public proceedings and/or other law enforcement investigations.

Mandate Engaged

The Unit’s investigative jurisdiction is limited to those incidents where there is a serious injury (including sexual assault allegations) or death in cases involving the police.

“Serious injuries” shall include those that are likely to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim and are more than merely transient or trifling in nature and will include serious injury resulting from sexual assault. “Serious Injury” shall initially be presumed when the victim is admitted to hospital, suffers a fracture to a limb, rib or vertebrae or to the skull, suffers burns to a major portion of the body or loses any portion of the body or suffers loss of vision or hearing, or alleges sexual assault. Where a prolonged delay is likely before the seriousness of the injury can be assessed, the Unit should be notified so that it can monitor the situation and decide on the extent of its involvement.

This report relates to the SIU’s investigation into the injuries that a 49-year-old man (the “Complainant”) suffered.

The Investigation

Notification of the SIU

On August 2, 2019, at 3:00 p.m., the London Police Service (LPS) notified the SIU of an injury to the Complainant.

On August 2, 2019, at 1:00 p.m., the Complainant attended at an Immigration, Refugee, and Canadian Citizenship (IRCC) office located in London. The Complainant had a can of gasoline with him and, as a result, office staff locked the front doors and called the LPS. The LPS’s tactical police officers, the fire department, and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) arrived at 1:14 p.m. The LPS tactical police officers began negotiations with the Complainant. At some point, the Complainant doused himself in gasoline. The tactical police officers deployed multiple ARWEN (now known to be BIP [1]) rounds at the Complainant in order to discourage him from setting himself on fire.

At 1:22 p.m., it was reported that the Complainant had set himself on fire. The flames were quickly extinguished, and the Complainant was transported to the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) in serious condition.

The Team

Number of SIU Investigators assigned: 3
Number of SIU Forensic Investigators assigned: 1

Complainant:

49-year-old male interviewed, medical records obtained and reviewed


Civilian Witnesses

CW #1 Interviewed
CW #2 Interviewed
CW #3 Interviewed 

Witness Officers

WO #1 Interviewed
WO #2 Interviewed
WO #3 Interviewed
WO #4 Interviewed


Subject Officers

SO #1 Declined interview, as is the subject officer’s legal right. Notes received and reviewed
SO #2 Declined interview, as is the subject officer’s legal right. Notes received and reviewed
SO #3 Declined interview, as is the subject officer’s legal right. Notes received and reviewed


Evidence

The Scene

The scene was outside a building that housed the IRCC offices. The entrance to these offices was covered over by a large structure that was attached to the building.

Figure 1 - The scene was outside the IRCC's office. A container for gasoline was located to the left side of the entrance.

Figure 1 - The scene was outside the IRCC's office. A container for gasoline was located to the left side of the entrance.

Physical Evidence

To the left of the entrance of the IRCC offices was a small gas can sitting upright with the cap missing and discarded close by. The gas can was partially filled with a liquid suspected to be gasoline. To the right of the entrance was a fire extinguisher used by the police. Another fire extinguisher was found in the parking lot near the entrance. A cigarette lighter and a partially filled bottle of alcohol were located within the scene near the front entrance.

The glass door entrance to the building was damaged due to impact. Examination of the vestibule area beyond this door could not be conducted due to the doors being locked. From the doorway, travelling east along the sidewalks and adjoining gardens, was evidence of less lethal deployment including remnants of BIPs deployed by police officers at the scene. Less lethal deployment was also found near the front entrance.

Video/Audio/Photographic Evidence

The SIU canvassed the area for any video or audio recordings, and photographic evidence, and was able to locate the following sources: two cameras associated with the building, and two videos created by a civilian witness.

Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) Recording


On August 2, 2019, staff at IRCC were interviewed and investigators learned of a CCTV camera that covered the main door entrance. The CCTV video was stationery and the Complainant moved out of camera range when police officers arrived.

The front door of the building also had a camera belonging to the CBSA. The recordings were for August 2, 2019, from 12:53p.m. to 1:33 p.m. and showed the following:

At 12:54:31 p.m., the Complainant came to the front door of the CBSA wearing white pants, a teal blue golf shirt, and a hospital bracelet on his left wrist; he carried a gas can in his right hand and a plastic bag in his left hand.

At 12:54:38 p.m., the Complainant pressed the buzzer to the CBSA office, following which he pressed the buzzer for the IRCC office. The video had no audio, but the Complainant can be seen mouthing words at the intercom. He has something small and black in his left hand (believed to be a lighter).

At 12:58:48 p.m., the Complainant walked north out of camera range.

At 1:01:15 p.m., the Complainant walked back into camera range and pressed the buzzers again.

At 1:02:16 p.m., the Complainant left the front door area and, at 1:12:17 p.m., smoke and flames can be seen followed by a heavy stream of water and spray of fire extinguisher retardant. The Complainant was not in the frame, but the next clip showed the gas can. By then the flames had been extinguished.

iPhone Recordings by a Civilian Witness


A civilian witness took two videos using an iPhone, capturing the incident on August 2, 2019. The first video was taken from the second floor overlooking the parking lot, and the second video was taken from the ground floor showing the Complainant engaged with emergency service personnel.

The first video showed the parking lot. There were two black LPS cruisers, LPS Emergency Response Unit (ERU) vehicles, fire trucks, and an ambulance on standby. A hose from one of the fire trucks was lying on the pavement.

The second video showed three firefighters, two with a hose. It also showed ERU members in police fatigues, with two carrying BIP launchers. Three uniformed LPS police officers had the building’s front door surrounded.

The camera panned west to east and showed the Complainant lighting himself on fire. There were no police officers anywhere near him. The police officers appeared to be at least nine metres away. The Complainant may have been hit with BIP projectiles at that point. The ground was covered in flames, as were the Complainant’s legs and arms and face. He turned to his right, and his stomach, arms, and face could be seen fully engulfed in flames. Immediately, the firefighters deployed their water hose at the Complainant and the ERU and police officers rushed at the Complainant as he dropped to the ground.

Communications Recordings

Recordings provided by LPS which occurred on August 2, 2019, showed the following:
  • At 1:07:08 p.m., police officers were dispatched to the location;
  • At 1:07:38 p.m., a 911 caller reported seeing the Complainant holding a ‘two-gallon jerry can’ in his hand but no lighter was visible;
  • At 1:07:58 p.m., the Complainant was seen standing to the north of a CCTV camera; the CCTV camera was providing a live feed;
  • At 1:08:44 p.m., ambulance and fire department were notified about the incident;
  • At 1:08:48 p.m., the Complainant talked to IRCC staff via the intercom and told them that he was going to kill himself;
  • At 1:12:09 p.m., the Complainant repeated he was going to kill himself;
  • At 1:12:53 p.m., a 911 caller told police that the Complainant was carrying a bag in his other hand;
  • At 1:14:17 p.m., the fire department arrived on scene;
  • At 1:14:39 p.m., the Complainant, who remained standing at the front door, doused himself in a liquid (believed to be gasoline);
  • At 1:15:41 p.m., the Complainant was seen with a lighter in his right hand;
  • At 1:17:05 p.m., SO #1 started negotiations with the Complainant;
  • At 1:20:09 p.m., negotiations with the Complainant were ongoing and he still refused to drop the gas cannister; and
  • At 1:22:20 p.m., it was reported that the Complainant set himself on fire and firefighters were dousing him with water.

Materials obtained from Police Service

Upon request the SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from the London Police Service:
  • Communications Recordings;
  • General Occurrence Hardcopy;
  • Notes from all witness officers;
  • Notes from all subject officers;
  • Will Says from all subject officers;
  • The Use of Force policy of the LPS; and
  • The Mental Health Crisis Response policy of the LPS.

Materials obtained from Other Sources

The SIU obtained and reviewed the following materials and documents from other sources:
  • CBSA CCTV Recording; and
  • iPhone Video Recordings.

Incident Narrative

The events in question are clear on the evidence collected by the SIU, which included statements from a number of civilian and police eyewitnesses, the police communications recordings and the notebook entries of each of the three subject officers. In addition, of great benefit was a video recording of the event captured by a civilian witness’ cell phone.

On August 2, 2019, the Complainant attended an IRCC office in the City of London. Upon arrival, he contacted the office by way of the intercom and told them that he was going to kill himself. The office, in turn, contacted the police, which immediately attended. The police officers present attempted to dissuade the Complainant from setting himself on fire; instead, however, the Complainant doused himself in gasoline. LPS officers fired their BIP launchers at the Complainant, hoping to either distract or disable him, thereby preventing him from setting himself on fire. The Complainant was not to be dissuaded, and he ultimately set himself on fire, following which police and firefighters immediately moved in and doused the flames.

The Complainant was taken to hospital, where he was treated for his burns.

Relevant Legislation

Section 25(1), Criminal Code -- Protection of persons acting under authority

25 (1) Every one who is required or authorized by law to do anything in the administration or enforcement of the law
(a) as a private person,
(b) as a peace officer or public officer,
(c) in aid of a peace officer or public officer, or
(d) by virtue of his office,
is, if he acts on reasonable grounds, justified in doing what he is required or authorized to do and in using as much force as is necessary for that purpose.

Section 221, Criminal Code -- Criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm

221 Every one who by criminal negligence causes bodily harm to another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years

Analysis and Director's Decision

In the early afternoon of August 2, 2019, the Complainant suffered burns to his body when he set himself on fire in the City of London. Just prior to doing so, he had been shot at multiple times by SO #2 and SO #3 using their BIP launchers – less-lethal weapons that discharge blunt impact projectiles meant to cause severe pain thereby distracting and/or disabling a subject. SO #1 had also been in conversation with the Complainant for several minutes attempting to dissuade him from hurting himself. On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that any of these officers committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s injuries.

Pursuant to s 25(1) of the Criminal Code, police officers are immune from criminal liability for force used in the course of their duties provided that such force was reasonably necessary in the execution of an act that they were required or authorized to do by law. The officers were clearly in the exercise of their duties when they responded to calls that the Complainant was threatening to kill himself. The common law makes clear that protecting life is an officer’s foremost duty.

Notwithstanding their ineffectiveness in this case, I am also satisfied that the use of the BIP launchers fell within the range of what was reasonably necessary in the circumstances. Arriving on scene within minutes and quickly ascertaining that the Complainant was carrying a gasoline cannister and a lighter, the officers contained the scene in a semi-circle around the Complainant and directed that he drop what he was holding. SO #1, a trained negotiator with the LPS tactical team, took the lead in speaking with the Complainant. Those negotiations took place over about five minutes and came to a halt when the Complainant gestured as if he was about to light himself on fire. At that point, SO #1 ordered that the BIP launchers be deployed. SO #2 and SO #3 did so, discharging three rounds each at about the same time. Unfortunately, although the Complainant was struck, he was able to pour more gasoline on himself and set himself on fire with his lighter.

The officers had given the Complainant every opportunity to cease course and only resorted to their weapons when the Complainant’s self-immolation appeared imminent. Had they worked as intended, the BIP shots would have disarmed the Complainant of the dangerous items in his possession or sufficiently incapacitated him to allow the officers to move in, without the infliction of serious injury. On this record, I am unable to reasonably conclude that SO #2 and SO #3 used excessive force.

The question remains whether there was anything more the police could have done to prevent the Complainant harming himself. If so, and the police were sufficiently remiss in failing to pursue those measures, it might well be there are reasonable grounds to believe one or more of the officers committed the offence of criminal negligence causing bodily harm contrary to section 221 of the Criminal Code. In my view, there is clearly no basis for proceeding with charges along these lines. The officers responded quickly to the scene, set up containment around the Complainant to prevent others from being placed at risk, and attempted to resolve the situation peacefully through for several minutes. Given the volatility of the situation, the officers had good cause to approach the Complainant with great caution and from a distance while the situation permitted, and then proactively in the discharge of their BIP weapons to try to prevent the Complainant from setting himself on fire as soon as it appeared he was about to do so. Thereafter, the officers and other first responders on scene acted quickly to douse the flames and secure medical treatment for the Complainant. On this record, I am satisfied that the officers acted professionally and with full regard for the Complainant’s health and wellbeing throughout the brief standoff.

In the final analysis, as I am satisfied that the officers acted lawfully throughout their dealings with the Complainant, there is no basis for proceeding with charges in this case and the file is closed.


Date: March 30, 2020

Electronically approved by

Joseph Martino
Director
Special Investigations Unit

Footnotes

  • 1) Blunt Impact Projectiles. These projectiles consist of 40 mm rounds with a plastic body and a head containing a mix of gel and silicone. When fired from a launcher, the round expands targeting surface nerves and causing a high degree of pain. [Back to text]