Mother of Lac Brome teen killed by Quebec provincial police testifies at coroner's inquest

·4 min read
Mother of Lac Brome teen killed by Quebec provincial police testifies at coroner's inquest

The mother of 17-year-old Riley Fairholm, who was shot to death by Quebec provincial police in 2018, says the coroner's inquest into her son's death is one of her last hopes at finding out what happened that night.

Tracy Wing, Riley's mom, gave her version of events before Quebec coroner Géhane Kamel at the Sherbrooke courthouse Monday.

Wing was among the first witnesses to testify at the inquest into the circumstances surrounding the teenage boy's death.

"To wait four years (for answers) for an event that took 61 seconds, I believe it was a lack of respect toward Riley, toward me, toward his father, toward his family," Wing said in her testimony.

"It was like, 'you don't matter, you're worth nothing, so we're going to give you nothing.'"

Riley was killed by Sûreté du Québec police on July 25, 2018 after 1:40 a.m. in an abandoned parking lot restaurant in Lac-Brome, Que., about an hour southeast of Montreal.

He was dressed entirely in black, and it was he who called 911.

Police said that when they arrived they tried to negotiate with the teenager to drop a weapon — an air pistol he had taken from his father's home. The pistol was found at the scene.

The interaction between police and Fairholm lasted just over a minute, then one officer shot him in the head.

"There was no negotiation — in 61 seconds, you don't negotiate," Wing testified.

CBC
CBC

Fairholm's family has been critical of the provincial police and Quebec's independent police oversight agency, known as the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), for a lack of transparency. The shooting was investigated by the watchdog, and the Crown decided not to lay charges.

The family has since filed a civil suit and a complaint with the police ethics committee.

Two friends of Riley's also testified Monday, describing him as an affable and caring teenager, who would occasionally discuss his mental health struggles.

Lack of empathy

Wing said those struggles were met with contempt by educators at his high school, Massey Vanier, in nearby Cowansville. She said teachers were quick to suspend him for distracting other students in class, instead of seeing his interjections as cries for help and looking for solutions.

The way she and Riley's father, Lawrence Fairholm, were treated by police officers the day of their son's death, Wing said, reminded her of how he had been treated at school.

"I felt like it was us who had done something wrong," Wing said, adding she had been looking to the officers and hospital staff for help and guidance, but felt "pushed away" instead.

It more than an hour before she and Fairholm were told their son had been killed by police, Wing said. She and Fairholm believed his death had been self-inflicted because Riley left a letter before texting her "I love you."

When a police officer met with Wing in a room at the hospital, the mother said the interaction lasted no more than five minutes and that she left upset by how the officer told her the news.

"I said it's been five years that I've been keeping my son alive and you killed him in five minutes?" Wing recalled. "I looked at her; I said you were scared of him dressed like that? She said 'yes.'"

Wing felt the officer lacked compassion and empathy.

Soon after, Quebec's police watchdog, the BEI, began investigating the shooting, but Wing says she received almost no answers to her questions.

Police didn't perform CPR

She discovered police had not performed CPR on Riley by requesting the ambulance report of the eventsé She then asked the BEI correct the information on its website, which said police had tried to revive him when they had not.

"Their investigation seemed like more of a collection of data than an investigation," she said.

Sarah Leavitt/CBC
Sarah Leavitt/CBC

After her testimony, Wing told CBC News she felt relieved that she had been able to describe the difficulties she faced in trying to get information.

The inquiry on Monday also heard from Juliette Blais, a friend who had a worrisome text exchange with Fairholm in the hours before his death. She said he wasn't well and felt discouraged about life, adding that he was vague in his text message responses.

"I did what I could with the means that I had to help him," said Blais, who was 16 at the time. "I told him to do something to change his thoughts, go for a walk, get some air, think of other things."

Blais said she texted his sister, telling her she was worried about Riley.

Another friend, Anders Koraen, also testified. Koraen and Riley had gone to the waterslides together the day before Riley's death.

Koraen said he noticed nothing wrong in particular with Fairholm that day but knew he was suffering from depression.

Also Monday, the inquiry heard from a police watchdog investigator and a Montreal police crime scene technician who documented the scene.

Kamel apologized to Wing on Monday for delays in the inquiry, scheduled to run two weeks. The coroner vowed to shed light on Fairholm's death and to issue recommendations on how better to protect human life.

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