'He's not forgotten': How a fatal shooting changed the way Montreal police deal with the homeless
Shelter works with officers to improve training and build ties after death of Jimmy Cloutier
Two years before Jimmy Cloutier was fatally shot outside a Montreal homeless shelter, he made a hauntingly accurate prediction to his mother, Carole Fortin: "I'm going to be killed by the police."
At the time, she thought the comment was a symptom of her son's schizophrenia.
"He was so discouraged," Fortin says in French. "And he even told me, 'Mum, hug your son because you won't be able to later.'"
On Jan. 6, 2017, Cloutier's prediction became reality.
The impact of his death has helped transform the relationship between the shelter and the police force. The two organizations have partnered to build closer ties and train officers to deal with the city's homeless residents, some of whom have complex mental health issues.
The sequence of events that led to Cloutier's death began at about 2:25 p.m., when Montreal police received a call about a stabbing near the Old Brewery Mission. Officers spotted the suspect, Cloutier, leaving the shelter quickly with a bag in one hand and a cup in the other.
Security footage shows Cloutier slip past two officers on the sidewalk near the shelter's entrance. The officers pause and then follow him. A third officer standing by a police car on the road is seen closing in on foot.
Cloutier sees the officers approaching, drops his bag, throws down his drink, reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a knife. The size and type of knife are unclear. The officers immediately draw their guns.
Cloutier then picks up his bag and walks out of frame with the officers following.
Quebec's bureau of independent investigations, which investigates deaths involving police, says Cloutier ignored orders to throw away the knife. He lunged at the officers, the bureau says, and that's when one of them fired his weapon.
Jimmy Cloutier, 38, was pronounced dead in hospital later that day.
'Enough is enough'
Jimmy Cloutier was the fourth homeless man to be fatally shot by Montreal police over a period of about six years. No officers were charged in any of the previous cases. Cloutier's case is currently before Quebec's director of criminal and penal prosecutions, who will decide if any officers will be charged.
A CBC News investigation published in April found that 461 people died in Canada as a result of police encounters from 2000 to 2017. Like Cloutier, many of the individuals who died had mental health issues.
Cloutier began using the mission's services in 2005, and completed a two-year residential program with the shelter and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.
In a statement released after his death, the mission says Cloutier was taking computer classes and saving money to try to "better his life."
"Jimmy was a gentleman of the street," his mother says. "He was a guy who was clean, responsible." She says he was a generous person who loved restaurants, cooking and people-watching.
A Quebec court document search reveals he also had run-ins with the law. The charges go back to the mid-1990s and include assault, trespassing and failure to attend court. The sentences range from small fines to 10 months in custody.
But the mission says Cloutier never had any problems at the shelter.
In fact, president and CEO Matthew Pearce says his reaction when Cloutier's life was cut short just steps away from the building was simply: "Enough is enough."
He demanded a meeting with then-police chief Philippe Pichet.
Pearce wanted to focus on two issues: police training and building trust.
He thought the force could benefit from his staff's experience with de-escalating conflicts involving their unique clientele. He says police officers often try to contain and control situations, whereas his staff focus on giving people time and space.
"Now, we're not wearing police uniforms and we're not carrying guns," he says. "But every day we're dealing with situations of crises, of tension, of conflict, and almost to a one they are resolved by giving the person time to explain why they're so darned angry."
The partnership between the Old Brewery Mission and Montreal police was announced in February 2017, weeks after Cloutier's death. To date, more than 240 police recruits have completed a mission-led training session, which covers myths surrounding homelessness, services offered by the mission, and how to intervene. In addition to the recruits, nearly 800 officers are expected to complete the training by the summer.
"It's an opportunity to really, really get to know each other. But not only that, it's how to better intervene," says Carlo De Angelis, the force's Aboriginal liaison officer. "Sometimes we're making an intervention and we realize it's not working exactly like we'd like, but [mission staff] might have that piece that we were missing."
There has also been an effort to build more trust. Since announcing the partnership, dozens of officers have visited the mission to serve dinner. Officers also stop by the shelter's internet cafe.
"We don't want police officers to come and serve a meal dressed in their civilian wear," Pearce says. "We want them to look like police officers so people realize that behind that badge, behind that uniform, is a human being as well."
Mission staff appreciate what they see as a more humane approach from officers.
"They're not rough and tough as they used to be," Vincent Ozrout says. "They'll offer choices to the person: 'You can either leave on your own or we can help you out.' Instead of just barging in, grabbing and leaving."
Pearce says the new police chief, Martin Prud'homme, seems as committed to the partnership as his predecessor.
"It's not a complete change in culture, but it's all heading in the kind of direction that encourages us to keep going," Pearce says.
But standing in the spot where Jimmy Cloutier lost his life, Pearce can't help but remember what it took to get to this point.
"He's not forgotten," he says.
"If he knew that his death was going to bring this kind of an outcome … he might feel that his life had had some meaning after all."