Toronto police officer who shot renowned gunsmith won't talk to SIU

The Toronto police officer who shot gunsmith Rodger Kotanko nearly a month ago won’t talk to Ontario’s police watchdog.

Rodger Kotanko's family said they're disappointed but not surprised

Rodger Wayne Kotanko was known to be a quiet guy and a master gunsmith. The Ontario man died on Nov. 3 after Toronto Police Service executed a search warrant at his property. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The Toronto police officer who shot gunsmith Rodger Kotanko nearly a month ago won't talk to Ontario's police watchdog.

Special Investigations Unit (SIU) spokesperson Kristy Denette told CBC Hamilton on Tuesday morning, the subject officer also "declined to release his notes, as is his legal right."

Kotanko's family and their lawyer say they're not surprised but are disappointed.

"Jessie, his wife, she just cries all the time," Jeff Kotanko, Rodger's brother, said in an afternoon phone call.

"She gave up her life in China to come here and spend her life with him and … now he's just gone and she's alone. Her whole life has been destroyed."

Jessie, Rodger Kotanko's wife, cried during a press conference held by their family in November which raised questions about why a police officer shot the 70-year-old gunsmith. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Michael Smitiuch, the family's lawyer, said while he had a chance to speak with the lead investigator Monday evening, there are still numerous unanswered questions about Rodger's death on Nov. 3 at his Norfolk County property.

"The family, obviously, is anxious to find out more information and the longer this goes, the more difficult it is for the family when they don't have the answers they're looking for," he said.

Toronto police said officers arrived at Rodger's home on Port Ryerse Road around noon. Neighbours say some wore plain clothes and some wore tactical gear looking for guns. Family say they also had an ambulance with them.

It's unclear what information they had because the family says it has never received a copy of the search warrant.

Rodger's family also says Toronto police didn't coordinate with local police, only alerting them moments before executing the warrant — a move family and friends believe would have prevented Rodger's death.

The door into gunsmith Rodger Kotanko's workshop is closed off due to an SIU investigation. He died after a Toronto police raid on Nov. 3. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

They say officers pointed assault rifles at Jessie and got her on the ground before approaching the gunsmithing workshop.

They add Rodger was inside with an apparent customer working on a gun when a police officer standing outside the workshop shot him.

The family lawyer has said Rodger had no criminal past and was a certified gunsmith who reportedly fixed guns for local police.

Denette, from the SIU, said all but one person, excluding the officer who shot Rodger, needs to be interviewed. The investigation has included seven witness officers and two civilian witnesses.

The next step in the investigation is ongoing forensic analysis and reviewing evidence, Denette said.

The investigation must be finished by Mar. 3, 2022 — 120 days from when it started. When the investigation ends, the SIU director will release a public report about the findings only if there are no grounds to charge the police officer with a crime.

Jeff has expressed his lack of confidence in the SIU, saying it is a process in which  "cops (are) investigating cops."

Former SIU directors say family needs to trust process

André Marin, who served as SIU director between 1996 and 1998, said he understands the family's concerns.

"I empathize with their frustration … the law, as it stands, does not force the subject officer to testify and I don't necessarily agree with it but that's the way the cookie crumbles," he said, adding it's common for officers to decline to participate in the investigation.

Ian Scott, the former director from 2008 to 2013, said he understands why the subject officer has the right to decline an interview.

"These are criminal investigations and the criminal procedure in our country does not support the admissibility of compelled statements which could incriminate somebody in a criminal matter so if they're not going to be admissible as evidence in a trial, I don't see the value," he said.

André Marin, served as SIU director between 1996 and 1998. He was also Ontario's ombudsman for 11 years. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Marin said in this case the SIU appears to have interviewed many witnesses, unlike other cases where someone is shot and the officer who pulled the trigger won't talk.

He said, while the SIU isn't perfect, it is an independent, arms-length agency that has safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest.

Still, Erick Laming, a criminology lecturer at Trent University who researches police use of force and accountability, said the officer declining to speak still may lead to some public skepticism.

Though Laming said cases like Kotanko's — where the family is desperate for more details — don't help the SIU's public image.

"There's still a lot of improvement we can make, especially with the oversight we see," he said.

Toronto police have charged an 18-year-old woman with a murder that took place in late 2022.
A Toronto police officer declined to do an interview with the SIU and declined to give them his notes as the police watchdog investigates why he shot Rodger Kotanko. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Marin said the SIU must balance protecting its investigation with public transparency, saying Rodger's family is "In the dark to preserve the investigation so it is more credible."

Scott said agencies like the SIU and police services won't ever be able to please everyone.

"You're never going to get a complete consensus on the police's use of force and the reality is when police use force, whether it is lethal [or not], it's always tragic and frankly, ugly."


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.