Homeless people are not scarce in Montreal. From 1994 to 2007, the population of homeless in Montréal rose from 15,000 to 30,000 according to the Montreal magazine l’Itineraire.
Some of them suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. They require special care and treatment. They normally keep to themselves but sometimes, they become threatening. However, are the police dealing with these situations efficiently when they arise?
The Montreal police’s methods of dealing with homeless people led to Farshad Mohammadi’s death, after he was shot three times in the back while attempting to run away from the police. He had attacked a policeman with an X-Acto knife. The officers had the right to protect themselves and the public but their means are questionable.
The police aren’t qualified to deal with people on the streets, but they should be. This is the second time in the past seven months that a homeless man has been shot dead by a police officer. In the June 7, 2011 incident, the man was slashing garbage bags with a knife and throwing trash onto the street. When the police opened fire at him, an innocent bystander was killed by a stray bullet. Both incidents happened at busy locations, one in a metro and the other on Ste-Catherine St. The police should use better judgement when deciding whether or not to open fire in crowded areas. They are defeating the purpose of protecting civilians from a threat by endangering them with stray bullets.
The police officers could have used other means of stopping the threat, such as a Taser gun to try and incapacitate Mohammadi. Even if the policemen claim to have acted by the book, there are other self-defense alternatives that they could have used on him; their guns should be used as a last resort.
As per the current Quebec standard regarding police shootings, an outside police force (Sûreté du Québec) is required to investigate whenever a police officer is implicated in an incident where any individual, who is not an on-duty officer, is seriously injured or killed or when the officer has used their firearm during an intervention.
However, civil rights groups argue that the transparency of these investigations are questionable due to police solidarity. I find it hard to believe the Sûreté du Québec would be impartial to officers from the same province.
This shooting at Bonaventure station puts the focus on Bill 46, which is an act concerning independent police inquiries. Proposed by the Public Security minister, Robert Dutil, the bill suggests having a civilian oversight bureau, which would administrate investigations and make sure they are conducted impartially. The bureau would be composed of civilians who were never part of a police force and a director who is (or was) a judge or a lawyer who has been practicing for at least 10 years. This bill would mark an improvement in impartial investigations and perhaps deter police officers from using their firearm as a first resort.
More resources should be dedicated to helping homeless people manage their mental illnesses and substance abuse issues. It is no doubt an issue that the health care system should intervene in. The under-funded police have to find a way to prevent these kinds of altercations from happening.