The Justice for the Victims of Police Killings Coalition invited Montrealers to show support to victims and their families.
Bridget Tolley, Julie Matson and the Gibbs family have one thing in common: a family member who was killed by the police. They also share a frustration toward the biases, unanswered questions, and dishonesty surrounding the subsequent investigations.
This year, the Justice for the Victims of Police Killings Coalition held their ninth commemorative vigil on Oct. 22 in front of the Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal, the largest municipal police union in the province. People gathered to remember the victims who lost their lives to police violence and abuse, and to support their families.
Bridget Tolley, the daughter of Gladys Tolley; Julie Matson, the daughter of Ben Matson; and Jeremy Gibbs, the nephew of Nicholas Gibbs, voiced their truth during the vigil. Police officers in uniform were also present as they stood behind the speakers.
“We all deserve justice,” Tolley said. “We deserve the truth. We deserve accountability. This is what we are here for. We are here tonight to honour and remember all victims who were killed by the police.”
Both Tolley and Julie Matson have been involved with the Justice for the Victims of Police Killings Coalition since 2009. “It has been many years that we have been here, and I want to thank you all for continuing to be here and to support us,” Matson said. “It really does mean a lot as family members—it’s really hard, and it doesn’t get easier.”
Tolley’s mother, Gladys, was killed by a Sûreté du Québec vehicle in the First Nations community of Kitigan Zibi in 2001. Since then, Tolley has not stopped fighting for the truth and justice her mother deserves. According to Tolley, the reason she is fighting so hard is because of the way her mother’s case was handled. She said she only found out her mother’s case was closed a year after the fact, when a reporter called to inform her.
“None of the police officers contacted me. They told us nothing,” Tolley said. “I finally got the coroner’s report and there was […] one big mistake that said the family identified the body. That was not true. We were never able to see my mother.” According to Tolley, the only people who were allowed to see her mother were police. “We had two witnesses on the scene; their statements were not taken,” she claimed. “Only police were involved in this case.”
As Tolley shared her story with the crowd, she looked back at the policemen standing behind her. “All we are asking for is truth, accountability and justice,” she said to them. “Do things right. We are all human beings; we all deserve the same treatment. You get paid to help us, to protect us in any way you can—not to kill us or hurt us.”
Unfortunately, new families of victims become part of this vigil every year. Jeremy Gibbs, whose uncle was killed by police in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in August, was next to tell his story. “They dont give a f*ck. My uncle, he was not armed, he did not have a knife, he wasn’t running at them. He was calm, and they shot him five times,” Gibbs said.
“I am aware nobody is perfect. I am aware we all make mistakes. I ran into my own share of trouble in the past. But that doesn’t mean or give anybody the right to go and take somebody else’s life. Everybody should at least have an opportunity to change—but he didn’t get that chance. Now his kids won’t be the same. I won’t be the same. The rest of the family won’t be the same.”
Gibbs reminded the crowd of the importance of standing together and fighting for change. For 16 years, Julie Matson has been fighting for the justice her father deserves. In 2002, Ben Matson was beaten to death by police over a parking dispute in Vancouver. According to Matson, her father’s cause of death was asphyxiation from the contents of his stomach due to being held in prone position (lying flat with his chest down).
“In police training, they are not supposed to hold somebody in prone position for very long because it’s very dangerous,” Matson explained. “Yet, five police officers held him in prone position, kicked and beat him repeatedly to the point where he vomited out the contents of his stomach and choked to death. That is how he died, because somebody didn’t like where he was parked.”
Since last year’s vigil, Matson found out she has half-siblings. “Now, I am trying to get to know them, and there is this big question mark about this one thing we have in common, which is our father, and I just don’t know how to tell them how he died,” she said. “How do you begin to tell them that the police killed your dad? That police killed somebody you love for no reason. People should not have to die for any of the reasons that any of our family members have died.”
According to Matson, the only way to make things better is to change the current policing system. “We know this has not been working for hundreds of years, and the only way to actually try to get justice for us is to dismantle the system that is currently in place and try something new,” she said. “Because clearly, as more family members are joining us—which is just so heartbreaking—we need to come up with another solution.”
Photos by Sandra Hercegova.