Community activists in Montreal North are hailing the charges laid against a police officer in the death of Bony Jean-Pierre as a small step in the right direction. 

Jean-Pierre, a 46-year-old black man, died four days after being shot with a plastic bullet while trying to flee a drug raid in March 2016. Christian Gilbert was charged Wednesday with manslaughter in connection with his death. 

"I think it will perhaps help diminish tensions in Montreal North," said Will Prosper, an activist with Montréal-Nord Républik and a former RCMP officer.

The shooting had exacerbated already strained relations in Montreal North. A vigil a month after his death turned violent when some protesters began targeting shops and vehicles, police say.

Will Prosper, Gabriella Kinté

Will Prosper is a community activist and former RCMP officer. (Radio-Canada)

Prosper, who has been following the case closely, told Daybreak he was "surprised" by the decision of Quebec's Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions to lay charges.

In fact, Prosper had been busy preparing to react to the opposite — an announcement there would be no criminal charges — when he heard the news. 

"It's not something that's done easily, especially in Quebec," he said.

The last time a Montreal police officer was charged in connection with a death was in 2000, when Giovanni Stante was charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of Jean-Pierre Lizotte.

Lizotte died in 1999 from injuries sustained during an arrest on St-Laurent Boulevard. Stante was acquitted.

Trial could shed light on police operation

Gilbert, who has been suspended with pay, was released with a promise to appear July 6.

Prosper said he's hopeful a trial will shed light on the police operation that ended in Jean-Pierre's death.

"We are still wondering why the police officer shot him. He was not a threat to anybody," he said.

Montreal police have said they will not comment on the charges, as the matter is before the courts.

Bony Jean-Pierre

Bony Jean-Pierre, 46, died after he was shot in the head with a rubber bullet while fleeing police in a drug raid. (domainefuneraire.com)

The charges against Gilbert come following an investigation by Quebec provincial police. The Sûreté du Québec took over the case, as the law at the time required another police service to investigate any operation in which a police firearm was discharged.

The BEI, the province's independent investigation unit which now oversees such incidents involving police, had not been set up when the probe into Jean-Pierre's death was launched.

Robyn Maynard, an activist with Justice for Victims of Police Killings, said Jean-Pierre's death raised larger issues such as racial profiling, which remain unresolved.

"We haven't seen any systemic ways of addressing the factors that actually led to the death of Bony Jean-Pierre, such as the extreme levels of really racist violence, of racial profiling," she said.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak