Sisters pepper-sprayed by officer want to tell story to police ethics commission

A Châteauguay woman says Quebec’s police ethics commission closed the file on her complaint of police misconduct without bothering to interview two key witnesses to the incident — her young daughters.

Complaint dismissed without interviewing girls, 11 and 8, after incident in Châteauguay in 2015

CRARR's executive director, Fo Niemi, left, helped Rosemarie Edwards, centre, file a police ethics complaint after she said her husband and daughters, including Emilyrose, 11, were pepper-sprayed by a Châteauguay police officer in 2015. (Kateryna Gordiychuk/CBC)

A Châteauguay woman says Quebec's police ethics commission closed the file on her complaint of police misconduct without bothering to interview two key witnesses to the incident — her elementary school-aged daughters.

Rosemarie Edwards filed the complaint in December 2015, after her husband, John Chilcott, and their daughters, Emilyrose, 11, and her eight-year-old sister, were pepper-sprayed by an officer who'd pulled over Chilcott's vehicle.

Edwards said the children never got the chance to tell the commissioner what happened.

Speaking in a hushed voice at a news conference organized by the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) Wednesday, Emilyrose said her father had just picked her and her sister up from school when a Châteauguay police officer pulled the car over.

Emilyrose described how the officer asked Chilcott for identification, and her father responded several times by asking why he had been stopped.

"The officer stepped back, he talked into his radio, then he stepped back to the car, and he started pepper spraying us," Emilyrose said.

"It reached all over the car — got into me and my sister's throat, and in our eyes."

The aftermath of the incident was captured by Edwards on a mobile phone recording:

RAW: Aftermath of police pepper-spraying of father and kids

7 years ago
Duration 0:45
Video taken by Rosemarie Edwards captures the moment immediately after her children were hit by pepper-spray that a police officer had discharged at their father.

The girls were treated in hospital. Edwards says ever since the incident, Emilyrose has had to see a doctor because of recurring breathing problems.

'My kid's life doesn't matter'

Edwards's complaint — filed with the help of CRARR —​ claims the officer, Matthew Vill, displayed reckless disregard for her children's well-being and suggests the incident was racially motivated.

The family is black.

CRARR's executive director, Fo Niemi, said the girls' parents and Vill attended an informal conciliation session initiated by the police ethics commission last June at which the case was discussed.

The details of that discussion can't be divulged, however, Niemi said the case wasn't resolved by the conciliator, and last week, the commission advised Edwards that her file had been closed.

Edwards said she was shocked by that decision: She said her older daughter was ready to testify about what she witnessed and experienced, but she never got the chance.

"I don't know if black lives matter, my kid's life doesn't matter," Edwards said.

"They never took the time to ask her anything. As a mother, I'm concerned, and I'm hurt about the decision."

'New elements or facts'

The letter from the commission states that Edwards is entitled to ask for a review of the decision "by submitting new elements or facts."

With CRARR's help, Edwards has made that request, based on the commission's failure to interview her daughters about the incident.

"Children have to be heard — they have to be paid attention to," Niemi said. "We need witnesses, and these are children who are ready to act towards this, and nobody cared about them."

Another complaint dismissed

The decision of the police ethics commission to close Edwards's file comes just weeks after another incident alleging racial profiling was rejected by the commission last June.

Errol Burke says he is upset police never apologized after he was tackled to the ground and injured when officers assumed he was a suspect wanted in a nearby stabbing. (CBC)

Errol Burke submitted the complaint after he said he was handcuffed and slammed to the ground by police while out buying milk on Décarie Boulevard in Montreal on Feb. 18.

The commission ruled the use of force in that instance was not unreasonable, since a stabbing had just occurred nearby, and Burke supposedly fit the profile of the suspect.

Niemi says these recent dismissals display a pattern at the police ethics commission.

"It's how the system deals with these cases of police misconduct," Niemi said, "as if the system is not really listening and paying attention to ordinary citizens — especially people who are very vulnerable."