The first fatal police shooting of the year in Montreal is raising questions and criticisms about how the incident is being investigated, the training afforded to police officers in dealing with the city's homeless population, and the amount of services provided for people living on the streets or in transition - especially those with mental health or substance abuse issues.
In reaction to the second police killing of a homeless Montrealer in the past seven months - and what is being called a history of impunity for police when they commit acts of violence - a vigil is being held tonight at Bonaventure metro at 5:30pm to mark the life of Mohammadi.
Farshad Mohammadi, a 34-year-old homeless man who immigrated to Canada from Iran, was shot by a Montreal police officer at Bonaventure metro station on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 6. He died en route to hospital. Preliminary reports are that Mohammadi had been sleeping at the metro station when he was approached by two police officers. It is unclear what happened next, but one of the officers suffered cuts to the face, neck and torso allegedly from Mohammadi, who had an exacto knife. Mohammadi had put his knife back in his pocket and was walking away - ignoring police orders to stop - when the officer who had been cut shot Mohammadi. Eyewitnesses have said that Mohammadi was not threatening any others in the metro and appeared calm as he walked towards the metro exit.
New details about Mohammadi have surfaced of the past few days: that he was part of the Kurdish rebellion in Iran before fleeing in fear of his life to Canada; that he frequented at least three of Montreal's homeless shelters and was living with both mental health and substance abuse issues, which a friend attributed to coping with the trauma of his past in Iran. Mohammadi had a reputation for being quiet, keeping to himself and at times volunteering at the shelters where he stayed, raising all the more questions about what lead to his death. He was also apparently fighting a recent deportation order, following a conviction on break and enter in 2008.
Mohammadi is also the second homeless Montrealer to be killed by police in the past seven months: last summer, police shot and killed Mario Hamel, who was cutting open garbage bags with a knife on St-Denis street and allegedly acting aggressively; a man riding a bixi bike nearby, Patrick Limoges, was also killed by a stray police bullet.
The ongoing official investigation of Mohammadi's death, as is generally the case, has been turned over to the provincial Sureté Québec police force. The SQ is refusing to comment on the investigation, including whether either of the officers involved in the shooting have been interrogated yet.
Committing the investigation of police killings and other abuses to other police forces has facing serious criticism, though, from many who are skeptical about police forces investigating each other, rather than being monitored by an independent oversight body.
"Le fait que la police enquête une fois de plus sur la police ne fait planer aucun doute sur l’issue de l’enquête policière : aucune accusation ne sera retenue contre les policiers impliqués," Alex Popovic, a spokesperson for the Coalition contre la répression et les abus policiers (CRAP), told the Media Co-op via email.
CRAP has been vocal in its criticisms of police misconduct and the apparent lack of repercussions. They are not alone. La Presse reports that Pierre Gaudreau, coordinator of RAPSIM, one of the main aid agencies for homeless and street-involved people in Montreal, was outraged to hear that the SQ was handed the investigation.
«Le ministre Dutil a ajouté l'injure à l'insulte en confiant une fois de plus l'enquête à la SQ. Nous, on n'accorde aucune crédibilité aux enquêtes de la police sur la police», he told the French daily.
Popovic also questioned the fact that police officers involved in shoortings often aren't interrogated for several days after the incident, often, he says, due to medical reasons:
"Enfin, le fait que les policiers qui tirent sur quelqu’un tombent systématiquement en « état de choc nerveux » apporte l’avantage suivant : obtenir un congé de maladie qui fera en sorte que les enquêteurs désignés pour mener l’enquête policière devront prendre leur mal en patience avant d’interroger le policier-tireur."
All these questions raise concerns about a lack of true independence when police forces investigate each other - especially since the Montreal police investigate the SQ when similar events arise with the provincial force.
In Ontario, for example, there is a civilian oversight body that investigates police actions. Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil introduced Bill 46 in late 2011 that would allow for some civilian oversight of police investigations of other police. But the investigations will still be carried out by police officers, leading critics to say that the legislation does not go far enough.
Mohammadi's killing has also raised questions around the level of resources and aid available for Montreal's street population. Doctors and even Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay have spoken out since the killing, calling for more funding for front line intervernors and street workers, homeless shelters and for medical aid.
To listen to an interview with Alexandre Popopvic from CRAP on CKUT's En profendeur, click here (French).
Vigil information: Tuesday, January 10th, 17h30, métro Bonaventure turnstile, ligne Orange. Details: http://howlarts.net/post/15537132826/montreal-remember-farshad-mohammadi.