Burnaby residents hold memorial for homeless man who died while being arrested

Calvin Goertzen, 56, died on Dec. 16, 2022 near a strip mall in Burnaby where he often greeted people coming and going from shops. His death came during an arrest by RCMP. (Submitted by Helisa Duplassie - image credit)
Calvin Goertzen, 56, died on Dec. 16, 2022 near a strip mall in Burnaby where he often greeted people coming and going from shops. His death came during an arrest by RCMP. (Submitted by Helisa Duplassie - image credit)

Dozens of people in Burnaby, B.C. placed flowers and mementos at the base of a tree in an urban park on Saturday. It was where a 56-year-old homeless man often spent time before his death in December while being arrested by police.

Calvin Goertzen died on Dec. 16, 2022 near a strip mall where he often greeted people coming and going from shops.

"Anybody that said two words to him saw his heart was just as big as he was," said Ryan McCormick, with Burnaby's Progressive Housing Society.

"He just shared a love with everybody that he met and he made a tremendous impact on this local community."

Organizers of the memorial, like Harinder Parmar, said it was meant to honour Goertzen's life, his struggles and humanity.

"Somebody maybe reads a news report, they're going to think, 'oh, another example of maybe why people should not trust somebody who is not housed, that they're unpredictable or they're violent,'" she said.

"That is not true."

Sohrab Sandhu/CBC
Sohrab Sandhu/CBC

Burnaby RCMP said officers were called around 6 a.m. on Friday Dec. 16 for reports of "an overdosing man who had reportedly been in a physical altercation with an employee at a local business."

Police said when the man was being arrested, he went into medical distress. Paramedics were unable to revive him and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Rhonda McKnight, Goertzen's sister, confirmed to CBC News that the dead man from the police interaction was her brother.

She said the family is from Manitoba. Geortzen had moved to B.C.'s Lower Mainland last spring and struggled with addiction, according to McKnight.

Sohrab Sandhu/CBC
Sohrab Sandhu/CBC

Community members at the memorial on Saturday drummed in a circle for Goertzen and smudged the tree where others had placed items in his memory.

Sean MacPhail, an outreach worker, said he had many conversations with Goertzen, and understood that despite his struggles, he valued family and friendship.

"As the community … started talking to him, he really started opening up and you got to see the beauty in him and the passion and the love inside him."

B.C.'s Independent Investigation Office, which looks into all police interactions in the province that result in death or serious harm, is investigating Goertzen's death.