The family of a Repentigny, Que., man who died after police shot him three times in the stomach on Sunday are blaming anti-Black racism in the city’s police force for his death and are demanding justice.
Marie-Mireille Bence, the mother of the victim, called police Sunday morning asking them to bring her son, Jean René Junior Olivier, 37, to the hospital because he was having a mental health issue.
“He told me he was seeing people around him, people wanting to hurt him,” Bence told reporters alongside her family at a news conference Monday afternoon.
Instead of helping him, Bence said, six police officers arrived at her doorstep and shot him in the stomach. When police arrived, he had been holding a dinner knife, but the family said he had dropped it.
“He threw the knife on the ground and that’s when they shot him. They shot him three times,” Bence said.
“They’re criminals. They killed my son,” she said. “I called them for help and they showed up and killed him. I find it absurd because there were other ways of dealing with this, of bringing him under control.”
Quebec’s police watchdog, Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), is investigating the shooting. It said Repentigny police responded to a 911 call shortly after 7:30 a.m. for a “confused and disoriented” person reportedly armed with a knife in a residential area.
According to Bence, she and her brother asked Olivier to give them the knife. When he refused, she called the police, specifying that she wanted help transporting him to hospital.
“I didn’t want him to hurt himself, but look at where that left me,” she said.
‘Black people do not have justice’
When the officers arrived, Bence said, they asked her and her brother to go inside and lock the door. She said she did as she was told, only to hear shots ring out.
Then, an officer came to the door to ask if Olivier was suffering from mental health issues, she said. The officer offered to accompany her to Royal Victoria Hospital to be treated for shock, which she refused.
Dolmine Laguerre, the victim’s cousin, said her family is now seeking answers about and accountability for the shooting.
“Black people do not have justice nowadays,” Laguerre said. “We are not safe in Repentigny … our skin colour speaks for us.”
Bence questions why police shot her son in the stomach instead of aiming for his leg or using a Taser to subdue him.
“He’s not violent. He wasn’t putting anyone’s life in danger,” she said.
Bence said after what happened to her son, she has completely lost faith in the police.
“Tomorrow, if I have something, do you think I’ll call 911? Never,” she said. “I would rather die in my corner than call them again.”
“Repentigny police, they do not want to see Black people,” Bence said. “911 is not for Black people.”
CBC News has sought comment from Repentigny and the Quebec government. Last year, Repentigny police hired a consulting firm to help address persistent racial-profiling issues.
In a statement released Sunday, the city said: “We understand that this situation can be particularly difficult for Black people who already have a lot of apprehension toward our service.”
Quebec’s anti-racism minister, Benoit Charette, as well as Minister of Public Security Geneviève Guilbault refused to comment on the incident while the BEI is investigating.
A history of profiling
The incident comes after a string of racial-profiling complaints against the Repentigny police.
In July, Quebec’s human rights commission found that the police force had racially discriminated against Leslie Blot, a Black man who was stopped, handcuffed and ticketed in 2017 while he was blowing up balloons for his children in the passenger seat of a car outside his home.
In its decision, the commission said the Repentigny police made Blot a “victim of discrimination, under form of profiling, founded on the intersectionality of motives of race, colour and sex.”
His case is the fourth time the human rights commission has ruled against Repentigny.
At a brief news conference Monday afternoon, the Repentigny police department said it wants to “rebuild bridges with the Black community.”
“The sensitivity is perhaps not as present as we’d like it to be,” police Chief Helen Dion said. Racial profiling is a pervasive issue, she said, and the force is working with organizations and developing strategies to ensure police interventions are without bias or discrimination.
Dion said the fatal shooting of Olivier is the first of its kind in the history of the service, and its members’ hearts are with his family.
Following the decision against Repentigny in the Blot case in July, the city said in a statement that it was developing an action plan, was committed to a process of “organizational transformation” and would announce a series of concrete measures over the summer.
But Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations in Montreal, said Olivier’s death will deepen the rift between Repentigny residents and the police.
“The situation could have been resolved differently and it escalated into something really tragic,” he said.
“The question is can we really rely on the BEI watchdog agency to conduct the investigation? Because the agency has not been very successful in terms of transparency and in terms of providing the kind of results that many people expect.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.