Vigil for young father killed by Montreal police calls for change

A vigil was held Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of a Montreal man's death — a 23-year-old father of three who was shot and killed by police in the back alley of a quiet west end neighbourhood.

But the vigil served as more than a memorial to the late Nicholas Gibbs. It was a call for change.

"I will forgive the police, but I will never forget," said Erma Gibbs, the man's mother.

"They must stop. That's enough. I'm looking for justice for Nicholas. That's what he wanted."

Holding signs and images of Gibbs, dozens of family, friends and community members gathered in the Place des Festival while police clad in neon vests and helmets looked on with bicycles in hand.

The vigil was a call for justice not only for Gibbs, but for other victims of "police killings."

"He was a fantastic father and my sweet and adorable son," said Erma Gibbs. "I miss him every day."

Her son was shot not far from her home in Montreal's NDG neighbourhood.

Police say Gibbs was coming at them with a knife in hand and the officers opened fire after their initial attempt to subdue the man with a taser and pepper spray failed. 

Five shots ring out in the night

The case is still under review, though Quebec's police watchdog has filed a report with Crown prosecutors. 

On August 21, 2018, two police officers responded to a call about a fight between two men, according to a statement issued by the Bureau des Enquêtes Indépendantes (BEI).

When the officers arrived at the scene, their window was allegedly shattered by Gibbs, police said. After unsuccessfully trying to get the man under control, police say they opened fire.

Five shots rang out in the night, the last two hitting Gibbs while he tried to turn away from the gunfire.

A witness-captured cellphone video does not confirm Gibbs had a knife, but the images only show the minute preceding the shooting.

Officers in the video yelled at Gibbs to drop a knife, but his family disputes that Gibbs had a weapon, saying that no weapon is visible in the video. 

Family files lawsuit against police

The Gibbs family is in the midst of a million-dollar lawsuit against the city over the incident. The case was filed in October 2018.

In court documents, the family says police used "excessive and disproportionate force" against Gibbs, who had mental health issues.

Anne-Marie Provost/Radio-Canada

They say police poorly assessed the situation, acted unreasonably and did not follow procedure on Aug. 21, the night Gibbs died.

Earlier this month, Quebec Superior Court authorized a class-action lawsuit against the city of Montreal by alleged victims of racial profiling.

'We will not tolerate this treatment any longer'

Activist and author Robyn Maynard attended the vigil. She said the video captured at the scene shows that the way police approach certain members of the population could lead to violence.

"In terms of the policing, particularly toward black communities, indigenous communities, people in mental health crisis, we see an immediate escalation of violence — an immediate escalation of the harms made to people," she said.

"For example, there is no reason to shoot someone, as the video shows us, as they are running away from you."

Anne-Marie Provost/Radio-Canada

Maynard said issues of systemic racism and discrimination by police need to be addressed. She said the class-action authorized earlier this month is a good place to start. 

"I think it shows a community is fighting back on a large scale and small scale to say we will not tolerate this treatment any longer," she said.

Until the issue of systemic racism and profiling is addressed, she said people will keep dying and communities will keep mourning.