Most people who died in police encounters in Manitoba were Indigenous, CBC investigation finds
11 of 19 people killed in incidents with police from 2000 to 2017 were Indigenous, according to CBC analysis
This story is part of Deadly Force, a CBC News investigation into police-involved fatalities in Canada.
It was a cold winter afternoon in Winnipeg in 2005 when police responded to a 911 call about an attempted robbery being committed by three "Native-looking" teens.
They found Matthew Dumas, 18, who matched the description. He appeared to be carrying a gun and was behaving suspiciously, according to inquest documents, so police tried to stop him. He fled.
Thirty minutes later, he was dead, shot by police after confronting an officer with a weapon that was later determined to be a screwdriver.
Dumas is just one of the 11 Indigenous people who have died in Manitoba since 2000 after an encounter with police, according to a CBC analysis of officer-involved deaths in Canada.
Roughly 60 per cent of all the deaths in Manitoba involved an Indigenous person, according to the data.
It's a figure experts say is a product of over-policing and Indigenous people's over-representation in the justice system.
Every single day … there's an incident that could end tragically if it were not for the tactics and training then employed by the individuals that are police officers.- Deputy chief Gord Perrier, Winnipeg Police Service
Winnipeg police say these cases represent only a tiny fraction of the interactions that happen daily between cops and civilians — and fatal encounters are extremely rare.
"This is a very deep issue when we get to dissecting the reasons behind those things," said Gord Perrier, the Winnipeg Police Service's deputy chief of operations.
"Every day there's an incident. Every single day … there's an incident that could end tragically if it were not for the tactics and training then employed by the individuals that are police officers."
19 deaths in Manitoba
Of the 461 deaths in a database compiled by CBC —which includes fatal incidents involving police from 2000 to the end of 2017 — 19 occurred in Manitoba. The data shows all the victims were male and almost half were carrying a knife or knife-like object. Fourteen of the deaths happened in Winnipeg.
All but two of the 19 people died after being shot by police.
All of the 11 Indigenous people who died were either armed or it was suspected they were armed.
Zilla Jones, a Winnipeg-based criminal defence lawyer, has clients who often come from marginalized communities. She frequently represents people from Winnipeg's Indigenous community and Manitoba First Nations.
She said the fact 11 of the 19 people killed were Indigenous "doesn't surprise me, only because I know Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in every other aspect of the justice system, whether it's incarceration, whether it's not getting bail."
Manitoba had the highest adult incarceration rate of all provinces for seven years in a row, Statistics Canada figures say. Almost 70 per cent of those in adult correctional supervision are Indigenous, according to federal statistics.
She says her clients generally distrust police.
"[They say] they get stopped a lot," she said. "I guess the broad issue is racial profiling."
In the case of Matthew Dumas's death in 2005, an inquest would determine racism did not play a role in his death and officers were justified in using force. The case garnered significant attention in Winnipeg, with the family convinced Dumas was a victim of racial profiling.
They compared Dumas's death to the death of J.J Harper. The Indigenous leader was shot by police in 1988 after they mistook him for a car thief. His death was one of the catalysts for the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, called in 1988.
Perrier says Winnipeg police have made significant strides since that period.
"It's been a long journey for trust building. Trust isn't something that's going to establish itself overnight," he said.
I think the statistics really confirm that there is a high level of police racism abuse and violence towards Indigenous peoples.- Pam Palmater
"In the late '80s and early '90s [there were] the conversations around the J.J Harper event, and the recommendations that came out of that were far-reaching around policies, procedures, training, equipment," said Perrier.
"We've made a very conscious effort since that time to engage in transforming all of those areas."
'Let's talk about it': police
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs called the numbers disturbing, but said police have made efforts to collaborate with Indigenous communities in the past. He said that is important for building trust and removing bias. He stressed the need for police to continue in that vein, for example participating in programs for Indigenous youth.
"They have to make themselves part of our communities because, police work is not only, you know, adhering to law — it's actually showing people that you care and there needs to be more of an effort," he said. "Unfortunately, police are always called to use the most negative circumstances."
Mi'kmaq lawyer, professor and activist Pam Palmater wasn't surprised by Manitoba's figures.
She says over-policing of Indigenous people — the idea that a community is singled out for enforcement action and subjected to stereotyping by police forces — has been a longstanding issue across the country and was one highlighted in the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry.
"Manitoba is literally ground zero for all of the negative aspects of racism in this country," she said.
"I think the statistics really confirm that there is a high level of police racism abuse and violence towards Indigenous peoples."
While Perrier acknowledges that across sectors of society there is bias and racism, he quickly pointed out that in cases such as those of Matthew Dumas or the 2008 police shooting death of Craig Vincent McDougall, racism was ruled out as a factor during inquests.
"Systemic racism has been examined in those inquest reports and in all those instances [the reports] have said that racism and systemic racism did not play a role in that ending of that event," he said.
However, he added that the data is a good way to start conversations around the use of force by police and trust in the Indigenous community.
"Let's have that conversation. Let's engage further. Let's build trust. Let's talk about it."