Greater limits on imitation firearms could reduce suicides by cop: judge

A Manitoba judge is calling for new rules governing imitation firearms to reduce the risk of fatal shootings involving police and what's commonly called suicide by cop.

Manitoba Justice Department to review recommendation, but no timeframe given

Judge Linda Choy oversaw an inquest into the deaths of two men who were shot by Winnipeg police in separate incidents in 2015, including one near Kenaston Boulevard and Grant Avenue, in which Mark DiCesare was fatally shot by officers. (CBC)

The province of Manitoba should regulate imitation firearms to prevent more deaths, a judge recommended in an inquest report on two men fatally shot by police in 2015.

"The availability of imitation firearms in society makes it more likely that police will be provoked to use lethal force," Provincial Court Judge Lindy Choy said in the report released Wednesday.

In two separate incidents during the fall of 2015, Haki Sefa and Mike DiCesare were killed in what's commonly called "suicide by cop" -- when someone tries to provoke police officers into shooting them.

Sefa was believed to be suicidal and homicidal, and may have had a loaded gun. DiCesare was holding an imitation BB gun that looked like an Uzi, a military submachine gun.

"If the threat of a firearm had not been a factor, police may have been able to back off and attempt to de-escalate the situation," wrote Choy.

Mark DiCesare was using an imitation firearm that looked like an Uzi. (IIU)

Though other factors of the two cases were analyzed, such as the thought processes of Winnipeg Police Services and the use of force, imitation firearm legislation was the only recommendation Choy put forward.

In both cases, police officers who testified in the inquest believe no other use-of-force could have been used in the situation, and Choy agreed.

Because police could not tell whether the guns in both cases were real, officers had to treat them as if they were, Choy said.

She added that imitation firearms are sold for entertainment and sport, but "the potential danger associated with these devices is significant" -- more significant than the entertainment value. 

"When used improperly, imitation firearms cause death," Choy wrote. "While a portion of the population may enjoy their use in sport or entertainment, the negative impact imitation weapons have on our communities warrants the need for some regulation."

She recommends that the regulations be focused on the sale and possession of imitation firearms.

The report was sent to 10 other people within the Manitoba justice community, including Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen.

Cullen told reporters Wednesday afternoon that this is the first time the matter of imitation firearms has ever been brought to him.

Cullen told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he had yet to read the report, but the department will be reviewing its recommendation. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

He has yet to see the report but the justice department will review the recommendations and "take it from there." He said he looks forward to input from police departments across the province.

No timeframe for the review was given but Cullen said he will be speaking with the deputy minister later Wednesday.

According to the Canada's Criminal Code and Firearms Act, an imitation firearm is anything that resembles and imitates a firearm, such as an airsoft or BB gun. This includes replica firearms, which are prohibited devices.

Airsoft guns are less powerful and shoot ammunition more slowly than regular firearms. They usually shoot plastic or wax bullets.

If an airsoft gun resembles a firearm (that is not an antique), fires a .20 gram-6 millimetre plastic pellet at a speed below 111.6 metres per second, then it is considered an imitation firearm.

A licence is not required to possess these guns in Canada, nor do they have to be registered. But if an imitation firearm is taken out of Canada, it cannot be brought back in.

Businesses can buy and sell imitation firearms if they have a valid Firearms Business Licence.

There is a mandatory minimum penalty of one year in prison if an imitation firearm is used in a crime. This sentence must be added to the sentence for the main offence.

Haki Sefa’s family said the man was depressed and suicidal when police followed him on Highway 59. After the van was stopped, Sefa was shot and killed. (CBC)

According to the report, Sefa had been depressed and left notes saying he wanted to kill himself. Police later learned that Sefa had recently bought a gun and it was believed that he intended to find an individual whom he believed committed a criminal offence against one of his family members.

Police went looking for Sefa on Sept. 20, 2015, and eventually found him on Highway 59.  They stopped Sefa's vehicle on the highway. But the report says that as he exited the vehicle, he pointed the gun at a nearby police officer, and was shot.

In the case of DiCesare, he drove up to a police cruiser on Nov. 6, 2015, and pointed a gun that looked like an Uzi at a police officer. 

He then sped away, waving the gun out the window.

A car chase ensued, culminating in a stand-off in a field near Kapyong Barracks where DiCesare was surrounded by police.

According to Wednesday's report, officers tried to communicate with DiCesare, but no significant conversation took place.

DiCesare threatened to kill himself and told officers to go away, before re-entering the vehicle for a few minutes.

He got out of the car a second time and then said to the officers, "Sorry you guys are going to have to do this."

He pointed the firearm at the group of officers. Police fired and struck DiCesare multiple times. He later died in hospital.

DiCesare's gun was later determined to be a replica BB gun.

Mark Dicesare was shot and killed after threatening police officers with what appeared to be an Uzi. (Instagram)

Communication breakdown

Both suicides by cop the inquest analyzed had communication issues -- most notably so in DiCesare's case -- but Choy found no reason to make recommendations in that area.

The report says that when police surrounded DiCesare near Kapyong Barracks, officers tried speaking with him, but were unable to because of noise from a siren that had been left on.

An officer parked a police cruiser against the driver side door of DiCesare's car, and did not turn it off when exiting the vehicle because the first priority was to get out of point-blank range from a firearm.

The blaring siren, however, "made it impossible to communicate," the report said.

Choy added that officers would have been yelling at DiCesare before the sirens were turned off, which made the situation more chaotic.

"Having multiple officers yelling at the same time was unproductive and likely only intensified, rather than reduced, the stress of the situation," she said.

Despite this, Choy did not recommend changes because evidence presented by police officers in the inquest suggested that DiCesare "did not seem to be listening to what they were saying and that he never indicated any willingness to engage in dialogue."

She cited the fact that the man had thrown his cellphone away, though the report says this happened after police tried calling him several times while the sirens were still ringing.

According to the report, the Winnipeg Police Service started installing kill switches in its police cruisers in 2018, which would turn off sirens when the cruiser is put in park.

"It would appear that these modifications will address any concerns about unwanted siren noise," Choy said.



About the Author

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter based in Winnipeg. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school before moving to Winnipeg. Prior to joining CBC Manitoba, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email at

with files from Austin Grabish