Brother of slain man says police need better mental health training

The brother of a man fatally shot by Ottawa police wants officers to be better trained when it comes to dealing with people with mental health issues.

Greg Ritchie, 30, was killed in interaction Thursday at south Ottawa mall

Greg Ritchie, 30, was shot to death by Ottawa police on Jan. 31, 2019. His brother says the officers involved could have approached the situation differently. (Submitted by Chantel Ritchie)

The brother of a man fatally shot by Ottawa police wants officers to be better trained when it comes to dealing with people with mental health issues.

Greg Ritchie, 30, was killed Thursday after an altercation with two constables at the Elmvale Acres Shopping Centre in the city's southeast end. 

Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), said Ritchie was holding a weapon, but the agency has not specified what it was. 

"My personal opinion is that [police] should have ... approached him calmly," said Ritchie's brother Nicholas.

"[They could have said] 'Hey, listen, we got a call for a gentleman wearing a black outfit and you fit that description. I'm not here to harm you or anything. I'm here to help you.'"

Nicholas Ritchie says his brother was a gentle man who loved to collect artifacts and make art out of nature. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

Officers identified

The officers involved have been identified as Thanh Tran and Daniel Vincelette. Sources told CBC News that Vincelette was cut in the forehead and a Taser was deployed during the incident.

In September 2011, the SIU charged Tran and another officer with assault causing bodily harm following the arrest of an intoxicated 50-year-old homeless man. Two years later, both officers were acquitted.

Nicholas Ritchie said his younger brother was taking medication for a variety of mental health issues, including schizophrenia. He was headed to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription when the incident took place.

He said he wants officers to be as well-trained in dealing with people with mental health issues as they are in other areas.

"If you arrive at a scene and you see someone that doesn't look well and you pull a gun on them ... what do you think the outcome is going to be?" Ritchie said.

'He loved our culture'

Ritchie described his brother as a gentle man who was proud of his Ojibway heritage.

Nicholas Ritchie (top) says his brother Gregory's (bottom) mental health deteriorated after they were separated from their mother Linda, who is now dead. (Supplied)

"He was loving. He appreciated and he loved our culture more than any other person that I've met," he said.

The two brothers were both victims of the Sixties Scoop, taken away from their Indigenous family near Owen Sound, Ont., on the Saugeen First Nation and placed with white foster and adoptive families. 

Ritchie said that experience caused his brother's mental health to deteriorate.

"People would stop talking and look at us because we were Aboriginal, and we were always discriminated against growing up."

With the help of his brother and sister-in-law, Greg Ritchie moved to Ottawa last October after living on the streets in Kitchener, Ont., and struggling with drugs and alcohol. 

"I found out through a friend of ours that he was homeless for three years," said Nicholas Ritchie. "My wife and I went down to Kitchener and we searched everywhere for him."

Police shooting victim was trying to rebuild his life

CBC News Ottawa

2 years ago
Nick Ritchie says his brother Greg Ritchie moved to Ottawa just last fall to live with him and get help for mental health issues. Greg Ritchie was shot and killed by police at Elmvale Acres Shopping Centre on Thursday. 1:15

Mistrust of police

Once in Ottawa, the brothers both sought support at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health. The centre uses traditional Indigenous practices in its therapies and programs. 

Linda Heritage, a clinical therapist at the centre, said many of her clients are still dealing with the painful aftereffects of colonization and the residential school system.

Clinical therapist Linda Heritage says her community has a mistrust of police and people in positions of power — a result, she says, of a painful history. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

"Our people have come through so much," said Heritage, who is also Ojibway. "If you think of the residential schools, our children were taken and often were chased down by the police." 

Heritage said it's for those reasons that some Indigenous people mistrust police, and officers must understand that.

"There's a whole history there."

Ottawa police declined to comment Friday, citing the ongoing SIU investigation.