Manitoba·CBC Opinion

Police shootings of Indigenous victims a painful reminder, reality on two-year anniversary

April 2022 marks the two-year anniversary of the deaths of three Indigenous people who were fatally shot by the Winnipeg Police Service over a period of 10 days. The changing of the season marks the anniversary of a painful reality for members of the community to which my son and I belong.

Anishinaabe Cree mother says anniversary of fatal shootings renews her commitment for change

A crowd at a June 2020 gathering held signs that said 'Eishia's life mattered' and called for justice and changes to policing. (Nicholas Frew/CBC)

This column is an opinion by Nicole Murdock, an Anishinaabe Cree mother studying criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

At least once a week, I drive through the intersection of Lagimodiere Boulevard and Fermor Avenue with my soon-to-be 8-year-old son buckled up in the backseat of our SUV.

Depending on the direction we're travelling, or how long we're stopped at the light, he'll either get quiet or comment on the stuffed animals, freshly laid flowers or posters on display in memory of Eishia Hudson.

The changing of the season marks the anniversary of a painful reality for members of the community to which my son and I belong. April 2022 marks the two-year anniversary of the deaths of three Indigenous people who were fatally shot by the Winnipeg Police Service over a period of 10 days. 

Eishia Hudson, a 16-year-old Indigenous girl, was shot and killed by a Winnipeg Police Service officer on April 8, 2020, while driving a stolen SUV following an alleged liquor store robbery and subsequent pursuit.

Less than 12 hours later, Winnipeg Police Service responded to a domestic call that ended with officers fatally shooting 36-year-old Jason Collins outside of his home. On April 18, 2020, 22-year-old Stewart Andrews died in hospital after being shot by an officer.

Nicole Murdock says after the three shootings, she didn't know how to answer her son's questions 'about police use of force and what it means to be Indigenous in Canada.' (Submitted by Nicole Murdock)

In the months that followed, I felt more uncertainty than ever before about how to navigate questions that my son was asking — questions about police use of force and what it means to be Indigenous in Canada. More often than not, I found myself asking the same questions as my son. The question that I could not shake, however, was what were we going to do about it?

The concerning nature of these deaths is not limited to how they occurred, but extends to how they were investigated. One of the province's key police oversight agencies, the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU) of Manitoba concluded that no criminal charges would be laid against any of the officers responsible for firing the shots in these cases.

The question my son repeatedly posed to me– what we were going to do about it?- Nicole Murdock

The IIU has been criticized by Indigenous leaders for a lack of transparency in their investigation, as well as for an absence of Indigenous representation on the eight-member unit.

The province proposed a new position, a community liaison between the IIU and Indigenous communities.

The Director of Indigenous and Community Relations is to work with community leaders, and there is the option for the IIU to enlist a community liaison in some investigations, according to provincial Justice Minister Cameron Friesen at the time.

But I believe this role offers a false sense of Indigenous representation within the IIU, and maintains a lack of Indigenous representation among IIU investigators

The question my son repeatedly posed to me — what we were going to do about it? — continued to pang at the back of my mind. Where might I be able to increase Indigenous representation and contribute to meaningful change for our communities? I enrolled at the University of Winnipeg, and embarked on my post-secondary journey at the age of 32 the following fall.

Both my son's call to action, and my desire to increase Indigenous representation within the institutions and organizations that need it the most, led to my decision to study criminal justice and Indigenous studies. Although I am still unsure of what my contribution will be, I'm certain I am getting closer to the answer.

As far as catalyst moments go, I now understandthat this just might be mine.- Nicole Murdock

Two years ago, three Indigenous people were shot and killed by the Winnipeg Police Service within a span of 10 days. While anniversaries marking the loss of Indigenous lives at the hands of the Winnipeg Police Service continue to bring up painful memories, they also call for meaningful policy change. 

There is an opportunity for that change to occur now.

Mandating that the IIU prioritizes Indigenous representation within its team of investigators through amendments to The Police Services Act, is one of many steps to take to ensure that there is opportunity for justice to occur along the path toward reconciliation.

A friend and mentor of mine once shared with me that the death of Tina Fontaine was his catalyst moment to entering a new phase of how he wished to affect and influence meaningful change for Indigenous communities. 

I will always reflect on and remember the 10-day series of Indigenous deaths that occurred at the hands of the Winnipeg Police Service two years ago. 

As far as catalyst moments go, I now understand that this just might be mine.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Murdock is a Cree and Anishinaabe student, writer and mother, currently studying criminal justice and Indigenous studies at the University of Winnipeg. She is a member of Fisher River Cree Nation.

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