Rodney Levi's family wants coroner's inquest to include Mi'kmaq and their traditions

·6 min read

Rodney Levi's mother says hearing that the Crown will not lay charges against the officer who killed her son was like losing him all over again, according to her lawyer.

The lawyer for Levi's family, Alisa Lombard, said the family is still not ready to speak publicly, but have shared with her how "devastated," they were to hear the Crown say there's no reasonable chance of conviction if charges were laid.

"They're experiencing a range of emotions from deep frustration to agony to, you know, some very deep grief," Lombard said.

Lombard said the family hopes the planned coroner's inquest will include Mi'kmaq and their traditions, and will reveal if the officers followed protocol.

She said if they did, was the protocol adequate in the circumstances that led to Levi's death?

"[The circumstances] very clearly involved a significant amount of distress associated with some mental health issues," she said.

On Tuesday, New Brunswick's prosecution service announced that after reviewing an investigation by the Bureau des Enquêtes indépendantes du Québec (BEI), it decided to not lay any charges against the officer who shot Levi twice.

The family recognizes this, that the shooter had not gone along on his merry way, and that he is likely requiring some healing as well. - Alisa Lombard, lawyer.

Levi, 48, of Metepenagiag First Nation, was shot and killed by RCMP on June 12, 2020, when they responded to a call for assistance on Boom Road, about 30 kilometres southwest of Miramichi.

The investigation found the officers "were acting lawfully to protect the residents of the home on that fateful evening," the New Brunswick Office of the Attorney General said in a statement Tuesday.

An accessible inquest

While there won't be a criminal trial, the province will be holding a coroner's inquest into Levi's death. During the inquest, the coroner and a jury will hear evidence and make recommendations to prevent deaths under similar circumstances in the future.

The inquest is scheduled to begin on Oct. 4. Lombard said the family is hoping it will answer lingering questions, but said Mi'kmaq should be involved in the process and included on the jury. This is especially important, she said, because Levi's mother's first language is Mi'kmaq.

She said the family will be advocating for traditional Mi'kmaq "truth-finding methods" to be used during the inquest.

And she said, if possible, there should also be "opportunity for some healing here."

"The family recognizes this, that the shooter had not gone along on his merry way, and that he is likely requiring some healing as well," she said.

Submitted by Tara Louise Perley
Submitted by Tara Louise Perley

"The hope is that this process can be designed along the lines of values and legal traditions that are recognizable to the group that the findings will impact most."

She said she also hopes the province will take note of the outcomes and recommendations with respect to things like systemic racism, how to approach people in situations of crisis, who to dispatch, and what kind of standards exist around the use of force in those specific kinds of situations.

Levi was the second Indigenous person killed by police in New Brunswick within a two-week period.

The first was Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old woman of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, who was living in Edmundston. She was shot by an Edmundston police officer.

Chantel Moore/Facebook
Chantel Moore/Facebook

Quebec's police watchdog, which was asked to investigate both killings, released its report on the Moore case around the same time as its report on Levi's.

Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said the Crown is still reviewing the BEI report in Moore's case and has not yet decided if charges should be laid.

He said Public Prosecutions has not yet set up a meeting with the Moore family "but intends to do so upon completion of the review of the BEI report."

More information revealed

Alongside the decision not to lay charges in Levi's death, the Crown shared a legal opinion that summarizes the information gathered by BEI. This includes seven witnesses, a video taken by one of the people at the house, and expert opinions. This is the first public glimpse of what BEI found since the killing.

The summary says two people called the police separately that night because they were concerned about Levi's behaviour. He was at a friend's house, and had taken knives from the kitchen. Witnesses say he was refusing to give the knives back and appeared to be under the influence.

A toxicology report shows Levi had "traces of amphetamine and methamphetamine," in his system but the summary does not specify the concentration and possible impact of those traces.

When police arrived, witnesses say they spoke to Levi calmly at first. Levi asked for an ambulance, and the officers decided to apprehend him under the Mental Health Act while they waited for the ambulance to arrive.

The witnesses share similar testimonies about what happened next, the summary says.

Levi started waving the knife around. When he refused to give the knife up, one officer Tasered him three times. Levi dropped one knife but picked it back up. At around that time one witness heard the second officer say something along the lines of "Do I have to do this?" referring to shooting Levi.

The summary says after the third Taser shot, Levi moved toward the second officer while pointing the knives toward him.

The second officer shot him twice.

Different witnesses described Levi's movements toward the officer differently, some using the word "lunge," others using the word "step."

Levi died in hospital.

Another witness interviewed by BEI was not at the house, but was a relative of Levi's. She said he spoke of "suicide by RCMP" on the days before the shooting.

Levi's family lawyer Lombard said the family has "some concerns about the credibility of some of the witnesses," including the relative who recalled Levi's behaviour on the days before the shooting.

She said they also still have questions about why the second officer had his gun drawn while Levi was being Tasered.

"There's some questions there about whether or not the intent to shoot was formed prior to this apparent emergency situation," she said.

She said the family is still holding out hope for those answers.

"But of course that will depend on if it is properly composed, instructed, and whether or not its processes are something that Rodney's family see themselves in," she said.