Killing of Indigenous woman raises questions about who should be doing wellness checks
Chantel Moore, 26, was shot dead by a police officer conducting a wellness check Thursday
The fatal shooting of an Indigenous woman by an Edmundston police officer is raising questions about whether officers should be the ones performing wellness checks.
Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old woman from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, was shot dead by the officer who came to her home to conduct a wellness check Thursday.
The Edmundston Police Force said the officer shot Moore to "defend himself" because she allegedly had a knife and was making threats. An independent police watchdog is investigating the shooting and the police's assertions.
Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College and the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University, said this is highlighting the impact of defunding social services that could have taken the place of the officer.
"The police are doing things that aren't really policing functions, but there's no one else to do them," he said. "They have to backstop where ever social services end."
There is no standardized definition or wellness check process across the country, he said. Wellness check calls can sometimes be related to concerns about a person's mental health — those have been steadily increasing in New Brunswick — but not all are related to mental health.
The exact nature of Moore's wellness call is not clear. Family told CBC News a former boyfriend who lives in Toronto had asked police to check on her because she was being harassed. Insp. Steve Robinson with the Edmundston police said Moore had received "strange" messages on Facebook.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said when he first heard about Moore's death, he thought it was "some kind of a morbid joke."
"I don't understand how someone dies during a wellness check," he said.
Multiple New Brunswick police agencies and the Atlantic Police Academy, which Leuprecht said trains most New Brunswick municipal forces, all declined to say what general guidelines they give officers when sending them on a wellness check.
Leuprecht said some wellness checks are mandated by the courts or an agency, and sometimes family and friends call the police to check up on people if they can't do it themselves.
"Those are two obvious ones," he said. "I don't know under what other sort of circumstances you might trigger a wellness check, but basically either it's mandated that somebody has to be checked on ... or that someone expresses a concern about someone else."
He said generally if someone calls to ask for a wellness check, that's "triaged" by the dispatchers based on the call's credibility.
Leuprecht said in a place like Toronto, there are more specialized officers within the force that could be sent depending on the nature of the concern, but in Edmundston most of the officers would be generalists.
Policing and race
Matthew Green, NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, has been speaking out against police-performed wellness checks.
Green said a wellness checks could play out differently when it involves people of colour, who are more likely to have negative interactions with police.
"There is certainly race as an issue in policing, but broader I think it's a conversation around public health and how we adequately support public health outcomes in our communities," he said.
Black and Indigenous people are overwhelmingly over-represented in fatal encounters with police, according to CBC News analysis that looked at deadly force used between 2000 and 2017.
He said it's not clear exactly when a wellness check happens, they "take place in different ways in different communities," but he said the greater question is whether police should be doing them.
"We know that we have wholly inadequate funding around mental health and addiction services, social services," he said.
"And we know that there have been a significant increase in the funding of police budgets that have resulted really in police being the catch-all for the social challenges of our community."
He said police are "both ill equipped and ill prepared" to deal with de-escalation and mental health and addictions and supports that are needed when a wellness check is requested.
CBC has permission from Chantel Moore's family to use the photos included in this story.
With files from Shift New Brunswick