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Her son was killed by provincial police, now this Lac-Brome mother wants answers

It was 1:42 a.m on a Wednesday in July when Tracy Wing received a text message from her son, Riley Fairholm. It contained only three words: "I love you." Less than 15 minutes later, the 17-year-old was dead, shot by provincial police.

Riley Fairholm's family decry silence from authorities, reveal SQ officer is refusing to cooperate

Riley Fairholm's family filed a complaint with Quebec's Police Ethics Commission, saying both police and independent investigators lack transparency. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

It was 1:42 a.m on a Wednesday in July when Tracy Wing received a text message from her son, Riley Fairholm. It contained only three words: "I love you."

Less than 15 minutes later, the 17-year-old was dead, fatally shot by provincial police.

Fairholm's family has struggled ever since to get information about what happened on that early morning on July 25 in Lac-Brome, a normally tranquil town 100 kilometres southeast of Montreal.

"My biggest grievance is just not having any answers — even the smallest answers, whether it be how he died, [or] the number of projectiles," Wing said in an interview at her Lac-Brome home.

Wing decided to take her quest for answers into her own hands. She discovered, in the process, that one of the officers involved in the shooting is refusing to cooperate with authorities.  

The family has filed an official complaint with Quebec's Police Ethics Commissioner, against both the Sûreté du Québec and the independent investigations bureau, or BEI, which investigates police shootings in the province. 

"[There are] a lot of the what ifs," said Wing. 

'What happened?'

Wing's living room is filled with reminders of her dead son. His photograph is on side-tables, two paintings of his likeness — commissioned from a local artist — hang on the walls. A black stone urn holds his ashes.   

Wing says Fairholm was struggling with depression but she knew something was terribly wrong after receiving the text message.

These were Riley Fairholm's last words to his mother. (Submitted by Tracy Wing)

When she realized her son wasn't at home, she immediately drove out to find him.

What happened next remains unclear. A rough outline, though, can be pieced together from what little information the BEI has made public.

SQ officers were called to an address on Highway 104 in a commercial part of Knowlton around 1:20 a.m. The 911 caller reported a young man was seen walking around, armed with a gun.
Riley Fairholm's family decry silence from authorities. 1:01

The BEI says police tried to intervene but Fairholm became "threatening," and the officers opened fire, killing the teen.

Both Wing and Fairholm's father, Larry Fairholm, arrived at the scene within a half hour of the shooting. 

But it wasn't until hours later that they were told Fairholm had been killed by police. Until then, they assumed the death was self-inflicted.

"I was in shock," Wing said Tuesday. "It's just a whole different mindset. It's just horrific."

Wing called Larry Fairholm from the hospital on the night of the shooting, informing him it was police who fired upon their son.

An SQ officer at the hospital overheard Larry Fairholm's ensuing outburst. Several hours after his son's death, he was arrested and charged with uttering threats. 

Those charges were later dropped.

Riley Fairholm's urn is on display at his mother's home in Lac-Brome, Que. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

SQ officer refuses to answer BEI questions

Since that fateful night, the only additional information the BEI has provided the family is to say the investigation is still ongoing, Wing said.  

Frustrated with the lack of information, she filed access to information requests concerning the investigation.

"We've heard three different versions of how Riley died," said Wing. "Can we get the one? Can we know how he died?"

Those requests surfaced a letter sent from Madeleine Giauque, the director of the BEI to Yves Morency, the interim head of the SQ.

In the letter, Giauque notes that one officer involved in the incident has refused to answer any of the BEI investigators' questions.

This lack of co-operation between police forces and the BEI appears to be an increasingly common occurrence. 

Earlier this month, several human rights and anti-police brutality groups revealed the SQ, as well as other police forces in the province, have routinely broken the law by refusing to answer BEI questions.

Riley Fairholm was 17 and suffering from depression when provincial police fatally shot him. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Investigation ongoing, BEI says

The SQ would not answer any of the CBC's questions about Fairholm's death, saying it was the responsibility of the BEI. The BEI also refused to comment. 

"The BEI will not comment on a particular case. Every BEI investigation is led with all the professionalism required," Martin Bonin-Charron, a BEI spokesperson, wrote in an email to CBC News.

He noted that all instances where an officer refuses to answer the BEI's questions are reported to the police force involved, as required by law.

"They keep spinning out this word: transparent," Larry Fairholm, Riley's father, said.

"I heard it that night on the scene. I heard it from the BEI. I guess they don't understand the meaning of that word."

The letter that BEI director Madeleine Giauque sent to SQ interim director Yves Morency informing him that one of his officers refused to answer the questions of the BEI investigators. (Submitted by Tracy Wing)

About the Author

Sarah Leavitt

Journalist

Sarah Leavitt is a journalist with CBC Montreal.