1 year after son killed by police in Repentigny, Que., mother struggles with grief and guilt

·5 min read
1 year after son killed by police in Repentigny, Que., mother struggles with grief and guilt

One year after police in Repentigny, Que., shot and killed her son, Marie-Mireille Bence is still haunted by the sound of gunfire erupting just outside her home — and the decision she made that she believes sealed Jean René Junior Olivier's fate.

"I still feel a burden because I'm the one who called 911," she said, fighting back tears while sitting at her kitchen table.

"I am not well. Every day, I cry. Every day … [For them] to have murdered my son, the way they murdered him, it's really unacceptable."

On Aug. 1, 2021, Bence called police, hoping they would get her son to a hospital because he was in distress. He was holding a knife, and his mother said he seemed to be hallucinating.

Bence and other family members claim her son eventually dropped the knife. Police officers ended up killing him, firing three bullets into his stomach.

Charles Contant/CBC
Charles Contant/CBC

The killing of the 37-year-old man devastated his mother and infuriated members of the small but growing Black community in the suburb located just northeast of Montreal.

For them, the fatal shooting was the worst example yet of Black people being mistreated by police in Repentigny and being seen as intruders in a city that was almost exclusively white as recently as 20 years ago.

With Quebec's police watchdog investigating Olivier's death, Bence has been kept in the dark about what is happening and what could come next.

WATCH | Mother explains difficult year since police killed son:

The Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI) announced in late May that it had wrapped up its investigation. It's now up to the Crown prosecutor's office to decide if there will be criminal charges against the officers who shot and killed Olivier. In a statement last week, a spokesperson for that office said it was still analyzing the case and that no decision had been made.

Bence has spent the last year grieving and waiting, hoping to see someone punished for killing her son — but she's not optimistic.

"If I had been outside with my phone in hand and I had filmed what happened, then maybe [I would be more confident]," Bence said.

Protest at city hall

On Monday at 7 p.m., demonstrators are expected to gather in front of Repentigny city hall for a sit-in meant to highlight the work that needs to be done before local police can earn the trust of the Black community.

"[The shooting] is an event that really touched people in the community," said Pierre Richard Thomas, the president of the Lakay Média group, who is organizing the sit-in.

"We spoke to a lot of people in the community who are scared to call the police if they have a problem."

Submitted by Marie-Mireille Bence
Submitted by Marie-Mireille Bence

In recent years, allegations of racial profiling against Repentigny police have piled up. Since 2017, at least nine complaints with the province's human rights commission have been filed. There are at least four known cases in which that commission has ruled against the police force.

Last week, the Human Rights Tribunal of Quebec — which handles cases from the commission and issues rulings that are binding — ordered the City of Repentigny to pay $8,000 in damages to a Black man who was racially profiled by the police.

Bence said her son, Olivier, told her several times that he believed racism was rampant inside the local police force. At the time, she disagreed with him. Now, she has no doubt race played a role in his death.

The city declined a CBC News request for an interview with Repentigny Mayor Nicolas Dufour, who was elected last year, a few months after Olivier's death.

It instead sent a statement highlighting its efforts to address racism and racial profiling in its police force.

Sarah Leavitt/CBC
Sarah Leavitt/CBC

"Our community expects deep and thought-out changes and a community police that responds to its needs. Which is why we are pursuing the actions identified in the 'Evolving with our community' action plan," the statement said.

Those efforts were acknowledged by the tribunal's ruling last week. It described the city's approach as "serious" and said its action plan goes well beyond what the human rights commission had recommended in the past.

Last month, Repentigny's police department announced that officers would be accompanied by social workers when responding to mental health crises.

The police chief said the plan was being put together before Olivier's death.

Antoni Nerestant/CBC
Antoni Nerestant/CBC

'Suffering all alone'

Bence says her son's death has made her regret moving from Montreal to Repentigny about a decade ago, and she's thought of leaving the suburb for good.

In the last year, she's appeared at several public events organized by local anti-racism groups. That means having to constantly think about and relive what happened. But she's worried that if she doesn't speak up, her son will be forgotten.

Charles Contant/CBC
Charles Contant/CBC

"My son was murdered and he's gone forever. But what I would like is for this to never happen again in our community. Because the way I'm suffering, I don't want another parent to go through what I have," she said.

"The officers who shot my son, who murdered him, I don't know their names. Now, they're at home. I'm sure they're still working. Meanwhile, I'm suffering. I'm suffering all alone."

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.

CBC
CBC
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