British Columbia

'I never felt threatened:' Eyewitness to shooting of Tony Du testifies in court

Joe Tobias was standing by the traffic light at Knight Street and East 41st Avenue, the night Tony Du was shot by police officers.

Joe Tobias, an off-duty bus driver, was standing at the intersection near Du when the shooting happened

"No one else should have felt threatened by him holding a two-by-four," said Tobias after testifying. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

A man who witnessed the fatal shooting of Tony Du more than three years ago testified at a public inquest into the man's death Tuesday morning.

Du — also known as Phuong Na Du — was shot by Vancouver police officers near Knight Street and East 41st Avenue on Nov. 22, 2014, while waving a two-by-four piece of wood at officers.

One officer used a bean bag shotgun to attempt to disarm Du, before another officer shot him using a firearm.

Vancouver police examine clothing in the intersection of Knight Street and East 41st Avenue after shooting a 51-year-old man who later died in hospital. (CBC)

Joe Tobias, an off-duty bus driver, was standing at the East Vancouver intersection near Du, when the shooting happened.

 "I never felt threatened. Not one bit," said Tobias. "His last five minutes ... probably, of his life, were spent with me."

Tobias said he was standing by the traffic light next to Du that night, pushing the walk button. He remembers moments after the police were called in.

"Everything was fine between us," he said. "Mr. Du got excited when the police cruisers showed up, for whatever reason."

Demonstrators hold up signs in the lobby of the courtroom in Burnaby. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Lifelong mental illness

Du's family members told CBC News he had struggled with schizophrenia since 1988, but regularly took medication to control hallucinations and hearing voices.

Pivot Legal Society said living with mental illness shouldn't be a death sentence and systemic changes are needed to properly train police to respond to mental health-related calls.

Tobias hopes officers will use more peaceful approaches in future incidents.

"I'm not putting blame on anybody," he said. "It's dialogue versus a bullet."

Police officers involved in the incident are expected to testify today and Thursday.

With files from Belle Puri and Liam Britten