Rolling River man dies after police interaction in Vancouver

·4 min read

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is “furious” following the death of a Rolling River First Nation man after Vancouver police officers used a beanbag shotgun against him while he was pleading for help.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is “furious” following the death of a Rolling River First Nation man after Vancouver police officers used a beanbag shotgun against him while he was pleading for help.

According to Vancouver police, a man had been asking bystanders for assistance following what police call a “violent incident” that occurred moments earlier on Monday. Police have not identified the man, but the family of Chris Amyotte — a father of eight — say it was he who died on Vancouver’s downtown east side.

A Vancouver police press statement issued Monday said a man had been taken into custody after an “interaction” with officers, but he went into medical distress and lost consciousness.

“Despite life-saving attempts, the man died at the scene,” the statement said.

Amyotte’s family said he arrived in the city on Aug. 17 to visit his children. His cousin, Samantha Wilson, said witnesses told her he had been bear-sprayed and had been asking for help before police arrived at the scene. Amyotte was unarmed, she said.

The case has been turned over to the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), B.C.’s police watchdog organization, according to Vancouver Police Department Sgt. Steve Addison.

The IIO said on Tuesday that it had been called in to investigate the incident, which began with phone calls to police responding to a report of a man acting erratically. The office said it has begun an investigation to determine what role, if any, police actions or inactions played in the man’s death.

However, Kim Beaudin, vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, doesn’t have much faith in the process. Beaudin told the Sun he’s spoken to numerous people who have experienced police brutality, and he believes that law organizations “bury” their stories and sweep the complaints under the rug.

“That’s why it doesn’t make the news like in the U.S., where somebody will sue the police department for millions of dollars,” he said.

“[Police] are highly, highly protected. Even if they do find fault with the officers in Vancouver, there’s not going to be any repercussions or anything. We’d be lucky if there’s a slap on the wrist.”

Part of the problem, Beaudin said, is that police are “overwhelmed and understaffed.”

According to Beaudin, Amyotte was a victim in the situation — something he believes will not be considered in the watchdog’s investigation.

“He didn’t do anything wrong. They told him to get down, but when [bear] spray gets into your nose and eyes, it’s not good … panic sets in.”

Beaudin also believes Amyotte’s race was a factor in the way police handled the situation, which, ultimately, led to the man’s death.

“His race played a huge role in terms of stereotypes,” he said. “They weren’t trying to calm him down. They could have done things … to calm him down. Obviously, they never did any of that.”

The Vancouver Police Department claims the man “did ask for help from a number of bystanders, who did not offer assistance.”

When officers arrived at the scene, Addison said, they attempted to “communicate with the man verbally.” Witnesses told them there had been a confrontation, he said in an emailed statement Thursday.

In a news conference on Monday, Addison said a beanbag shotgun had been used, calling the weapon a “safe and effective, less-lethal tool” that is used as an alternative to lethal force, which can be used against a person who is “acting violently or displaying assaultive behaviour.”

The investigation will determine whether Amyotte was in possession of a weapon, but possession of a weapon is “not required” for deployment of a beanbag shotgun, Addison explained.

Amyotte’s death was a tragedy that showcased the “deep and ongoing failure” by police when dealing with Indigenous people in distress, a Thursday press release from CAP said. It cited that Indigenous people are 10 times more likely to be shot and killed by police in Canada.

Beaudin said most Canadians aren’t aware of what Indigenous people face when it comes to issues with law enforcement.

“They don’t understand it because they don’t see it every day. As it becomes more prominent … they might start picking up on it and say, ‘what’s going on here?’ eventually, but it could be a few years down the road yet.”

The absence of awareness comes down to a lack of accountability on the part of law enforcement, Beaudin said. This is why he doesn’t have faith in the IIO’s investigation.

“I have zero faith in it, really. I don’t see [how it’s] going to work for the family at all, or anybody else … the family wants answers, but they’re not going to find them, not through that process. The premier and the mayor of Vancouver should be stepping up on this one, but they won’t.”

The Sun contacted Rolling River First Nation for comment but didn’t receive a response by press time.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun