Mother of Black Quebec man shot and killed by police sues city, cops

MONTREAL — The mother of a Black man from Repentigny, Que., who was killed by police in 2021 has filed a lawsuit against the city and its police force.

Lawyers for Mireille Bence said they believe race may have played a role in the death of Jean René Junior Olivier.

"We have reasons to believe that if Jean René Junior Olivier had been a white person, he would still be alive today," Wilerne Bernard, one of Bence's lawyers, told reporters on Tuesday.

Junior Olivier, 37, was shot and killed by Repentigny police on Aug. 1, 2021, as he was experiencing a mental health crisis.

His mother is now seeking $430,000 in damages.

Bence said she expected a medical response when she called 911 to report that her son was experiencing psychological distress and was carrying a knife, but that instead six police officers arrived, along with an ambulance.

"I asked for an ambulance to take him to a psychiatric hospital, but when they arrived at the scene, it was not like that at all. He was killed," she told reporters at a news conference.

"I know, no matter what happens, my son will not return to life. However, I'm here so ... that another family doesn't have to go through what I'm going through right now. It's very painful," she said.

Quebec's police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, concluded that officers attempted to convince Junior Olivier to drop the knife for around 15 minutes. At several points, he put the knife down, before picking it up again.

The watchdog said that moments before his death, Junior Olivier dropped the knife, before picking it up again and running toward the officers, two of whom opened fire.

Bence said she doesn't believe the shooting was justified.

"My son had a steak knife in his hand. There were six police officers. The six police officers can't restrain a skinny guy with a steak knife in his hand?" she said.

Marie-Livia Beaugé, Bence's other lawyer, said the city has underlined the importance of giving its police officers training around mental health and racial profiling.

"However, during this intervention, none of these trainings seems to have been used," she said.

Bernard said the combination of "mental health, Black skin (and) precarious social status" increases the chances of death during a police intervention "enormously."

Less than two weeks ago, Quebec's Crown prosecutor's office decided there were no grounds to lay criminal charges against any of the police officers in connection with the fatal shooting.

"Considering the particularly imminent danger they faced, the man being armed and repeatedly refusing to comply with orders, each of the two officers involved had reasonable grounds to believe that the force applied toward the man was necessary to protect themselves against serious bodily injury or death and that the use of their guns was the only way to stop this threat," the prosecution service said in a release.

The community group Lakay, which represents Repentigny's Black community, as well as anti-racism group Red Coalition have called on Quebec's public security minister to order a public inquiry into Junior Olivier's death.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2023.

Pierre Saint-Arnaud, The Canadian Press