N.B. police shooting of Indigenous woman leads to questions on ‘wellness checks’

N.B. police shooting of Indigenous woman leads to questions on ‘wellness checks’

FREDERICTON — A 26-year-old Indigenous woman from British Columbia who was fatally shot by police in northwestern New Brunswick was remembered Friday as a caring person as questions were raised about police conduct of so-called “wellness checks.”

Chantel Moore was killed early Thursday morning when police arrived at her home in response to a request to check on her well-being. Edmundston police say their officer encountered a woman with a knife making threats. She was shot and died at the scene despite attempts to resuscitate her.

Moore’s grandmother, Grace Frank, said her granddaughter was “tiny” and she doesn’t believe she could have attacked the officer.

“My granddaughter was the most beautiful person and the kindest person you could ever meet,” she said from her home in Tofino, B.C. “She was so lovable and caring.”

Frank said Moore had lived with her for a number of years as a teenager before moving in with other relatives and later settling in Campbell River, B.C., where she met her boyfriend and had a daughter named Gracie.

Frank said her daughter — Moore’s mother — had been raising Gracie in New Brunswick, and Moore recently moved there to be with her mother and daughter and to go to college. She said she was not aware that Moore had any mental health issues.

“It is so difficult. We’re in disbelief,” Frank said crying. “We can’t believe it. It’s not our girl. She would never attack anybody.”

Quebec’s independent police investigation agency has begun investigating the Edmundston shooting at the request of the RCMP, which is providing forensic support. In a brief statement, the agency said it’s investigation will determine if the information provided by police is accurate.

The City of Edmundston and the Edmundston Police Force said Friday they will make no further comment.

In Ottawa Friday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the family deserves answers, quickly. “It was a wellness check and someone died,” he said. “I can’t process that.”

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in B.C. called for immediate action and for the independent investigation to be conducted in a timely way.

The council represents 14 First Nations including the Tla-o-qui-aht, to which Moore belonged.

“We’re very close-knit communities,” council vice-president Mariah Charleson said. “The whole Nuu-chah-nulth Nation is grieving.”

Charleson said Moore was a friendly face when she worked at the Tseshaht market and Fas Gas Plus gas station in Port Alberni and is being remembered by friends for her bubbly personality.

Her death on the one-year anniversary of the release of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls highlights inaction to prevent avoidable deaths. Investigations can take years with no results, she said.

“For far too long, Indigenous people are left on the back burner and our families and communities are left waiting with no answers,” she said.

Archie Kaiser, a professor at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said there have been many examples of “wellness checks” going awry.

“In every major city, and in rural areas as well, there continue to be instances where the police fail to discharge their service obligations in terms of treating people compassionately, respecting their human rights,” he said Friday. “In the worst cases, that has resulted in a preventable death, and there continue to be such tragic outcomes.”

He said the 911 operator needs to gather as much information as possible and ensure that information is passed along to the responding officers. Officers need to be equipped “to deal with the person’s needs in a sensitive and respectful way,” he said.

A Halifax-based group Women’s Wellness Within said it should not be the police who are sent to check on people’s well-being, noting that studies have shown that the victims of many such police shootings are in mental distress.

The group is one of many calling for the “defunding” of police, and redirecting funding towards mental health services.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said it’s unfortunate that police become first responders to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

He was reacting to the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

The Toronto woman fell to her death from her 24th-floor balcony during an interaction with police last Wednesday.

Meanwhile Lorraine Witman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, called for federal action in light of Moore’s death, saying the government has yet to respond to the 231 calls for justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Witman said Indigenous women have been watching with interest what is happening in the United States, and in Canada, after police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd.

“We have seen the outrage and the protest. And we share those feelings. But we also wonder, where is the outrage when young First Nations women and girls die violently in Canada, year after year?” she asked.

An online petition calling for the Edmundston police officer to face criminal charges had collected about 6,400 names by mid-afternoon Friday, while a Go Fund Me page had raised about $80,000 for Moore’s family.

— With files from Liam Casey in Toronto and Amy Smart in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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