The Acting Director of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), Joseph Martino, has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds to charge an Ontario Provincial Police (Red Lake detachment) officer with a criminal offence in relation to the firearm injury of a 23-year-old woman in February of this year.
The SIU assigned four investigators and two forensic investigators to probe the incident. As part of the investigation, one witness officer and three civilian witnesses were interviewed. The subject officer took part in an SIU interview but did not provide his notes, as is his legal right. SIU forensic investigators photographed the scene and also seized a knife and a canister of bear spray.
The SIU investigation found that the following events took place on Saturday, February 8, 2014:
• At about 9:00 p.m., the subject officer and a witness officer responded to a disturbance call at the woman’s residence on Pine Road.
• The lights were on in the residence and the subject officer could hear the woman’s dogs barking.
• He knocked on the door and called out to the woman but did not receive an answer.
• The subject officer then contacted the woman’s mother and asked her to call her daughter to have her speak with him. The mother indicated that her daughter was no longer answering telephone calls.
• The woman’s mother also arrived at the scene and expressed concern to the officers that her daughter might injure herself. She also notified them that she had returned a knife and bear spray to her daughter, which the police had previously taken from the woman and given to her mother for safekeeping.
• The subject officer peered in through a window and could see that a chair had been wedged against the entrance door underneath the door knob.
• He made his way to the front of the residence, called out his presence and knocked on a bay window. The woman’s speech was slurred, but the officer heard her reply that she would take another pill every time he knocked.
• With that, the subject officer concluded he had the grounds to apprehend the woman under the Mental Health Act (MHA).
• He advised the communications centre of his intention to break into the residence, and then proceeded to do so after announcing his presence once again. On the second of two kicks, the subject officer was able to knock down the door.
• The officer entered through the door and found himself in the kitchen. He was quickly confronted by the woman making her way into the kitchen from a hallway.
• The woman had a canister of bear spray in her left hand, which was pointed in his direction, and a knife in her right hand. He called out “knife” at about the same time that the woman discharged the bear spray in his direction, striking his mouth and eyes.
• The officer felt his eyes closing involuntarily but could barely make out the woman before him.
• Fearing for his life and that of his partner, who he believed to be behind him, the officer drew his firearm and discharged a single round in the woman’s direction striking her in her left shoulder.
• The woman was taken to Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital and later airlifted to Winnipeg Regional Health Authority for treatment.
Acting Director Martino stated, “Police officers in Ontario are duty bound under the Police Services Act and at common law to protect and preserve life. The subject officer was clearly acting in the discharge of that duty when he decided that an immediate entry into the woman’s home was necessary to ensure her wellbeing. I am further satisfied that the officer was correct in concluding that he had grounds to apprehend her under the MHA.”
Acting Director Martino, continued, “I am also satisfied on reasonable grounds that the shooting was legally justified pursuant to section 34 (setting out self-defence or the defence of others) of the Criminal Code and that there are therefore no reasonable grounds for proceeding with charges in this case. First, the subject officer clearly believed, and reasonably so, that he was under attack by the woman. She had just sprayed him with bear spray and was near the officer holding a knife. The subject officer put the separation between them at about eight feet at the time of the shooting. This seems a reasonable estimate given the dimensions of the kitchen, the location of blood just into the hallway from the kitchen and the evidence by the parties as to where the woman was standing at the time. Second, it is obvious that the subject officer discharged his weapon solely for the purpose of defending himself and his partner. Lastly, I am satisfied that the subject officer’s resort to lethal force was reasonable in the circumstances. The woman had discharged bear spray in the officer’s direction, striking him in the face and eyes. She was holding a knife in close proximity. She constituted a legitimate and lethal threat. Struggling to see from his eyes and fearing for his life and that of his partner from an imminent knife attack, the subject officer was entitled to respond with lethal force.”
The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault. Under the Police Services Act, the Director of the SIU must