Montreal police pressed to act on training after damning report into fatal shooting of man in distress

After yet another coroner's report into the police shooting death of a Black man in the midst of a mental health crisis, many people are asking how police will respond from now on to the 1,000 calls they get weekly about someone in mental distress.

Report into 2017 shooting of Pierre Coriolan recommends better training to de-escalate mental health crises

Johanne Coriolan, left, a family member of Pierre Coriolan and activists Will Prosper, right, and Maguy Metellus speaking at a news conference in 2018. (The Canadian Press)

When community activist Will Prosper heard about the findings of the Quebec coroner in the 2017 police shooting death of Pierre Coriolan, his thoughts turned immediately to others who were in mental distress who have also died at the hands of Montreal police.

"I'm thinking about the cases of Nicholas Gibbs. I'm thinking about the case of Alain Magloire. I'm thinking about the case of Sheffield Matthews," said Prosper, a documentary filmmaker, former police officer and former Projet Montréal municipal candidate in Montréal-Nord.

"They were all in a similar situation," he said. Like 58-year-old Coriolan, all three were Black men with mental health struggles.

In his report released Wednesday, Coroner Luc Malouin found that, in a matter of minutes, police provoked "a chain reaction" by the way they responded to 911 calls about Coriolan, who had been yelling and breaking things inside his own apartment.

Malouin found police were relying on "obsolete and outdated" techniques more suited to dealing with an active shooter than with a person in a mental health crisis, and he said police require better training to be able to de-escalate such situations.

Prosper has heard it all before.

"We've seen many coroner's reports indicating the same kind of recommendations over the years, and we are still seeing the same kind of deaths," he said. 

A 2016 coroner's report into the police shooting of Alain Magloire, a 41-year-old homeless man with mental illness, found that police in that case also lacked training in de-escalation techniques. (Facebook)

In fact, Malouin himself made similar recommendations in 2016, following the death of Alain Magloire, a 41-year-old man who was shot dead by Montreal police during a tense confrontation near the bus terminal on Berri Street.

The coroner acknowledges that there have been some improvements since then: Quebec's police academy, the École nationale de police du Québec (ENPQ), has enhanced its training for police cadets. 

In a statement, the Montreal police service (SPVM) said it welcomed the coroner's report and underlined that the service started rolling out a new de-escalation training program in 2018. 

But Malouin notes it's expected to take five years to get all SPVM officers trained. He's also recommending that police undergo periodic recertification to keep their skills up to date. 

The city of Montreal also points to the launch of a pilot project last year in the Ville-Marie borough: a specialized team called L'équipe mobile de médiation et d'intervention sociale (ÉMMIS), which includes social intervention workers who assist the SPVM on mental health calls downtown.

According to Malouin, the SPVM fields 1,000 calls a week regarding people in mental distress. 

But advocates for people with mental health issues say police don't always call on specialized intervention teams when responding to these situations.

Jean-François Plouffe, spokesperson for Action Autonomie, a group that defends the rights of those with mental illness, says all too often, police still react to people with mental health issues primarily as threats, rather than as citizens who are in crisis. 

"They [treated] that problem as if it's a robber in a bank or something. And [it] wasn't that," said Plouffe.

"Mr. Coriolan was in his own world, so he cannot obey to the orders of the police officers," Plouffe said. "He doesn't understand them. And that is something police officers may have some trouble to understand."

Pierre Coriolan was 58 when he was fatally shot by police in the hallway of his Montreal apartment building. A coroner's report found police used 'obsolete' and 'outdated' techniques in responding to calls about a man in distress. (Huffington Post)

'Talk calmly, ask for his name'

Coriolan's family, who are suing the city of Montreal in the man's death, say they are satisfied with the report. 

While the role of the coroner is not to assign blame, the family's lawyer, Virginie Dufresne-Lemire, says the report did establish some key facts about how the police communicated with Coriolan.

"Two people screaming at someone, it's not a way ... to initiate a dialogue," she said.

"They should talk calmly, ask for his name, [ask,] 'What's wrong? What's the problem.' And they did not do that."

Dufresne-Lemire welcomed the coroner's recommendation that police receive enhanced training in de-escalation techniques, however, she questions why this training was not already in place in 2017, particularly since by then, Malouin had already cited a lack of police training as contributing to the death of Alain Magloire. 

She also noted that the coroner does not have the power to force the government or police forces to implement the recommendations.

A spokesperson for Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said the minister would take time to analyze the recommendations in depth.

Nicholas Gibbs, represented in a new Montreal mural, was fatally shot by police in the Montreal's NDG neighbourhood in the summer of 2018, when he was 23. (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC)

Prosper believes that for things to actually change, the public needs to take notice. 

"Not too many people care about these people. That's the truth and the sad factor, unfortunately," he said. "Because they are people that are from poor neighbourhoods, people that are racialized, people that have mental health issues."

Plouffe, for his part, hopes that the mindset of younger officers is shifting, to better acknowledge the social aspects of their work.

"Maybe we can have some hope that in the future, that the culture of the police might change to consider people as citizens," he said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


With files from Radio-Canada's Pascal Robidas


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?