OPP shoot man dead hours after mask dispute leads to alleged assault

Ontario's police watchdog is investigating after police shot and killed a 73-year-old man in Haliburton County who had previously refused to wear a mask and allegedly assaulted a grocery store employee.

Officers called to supermarket in Minden, Ont., on Wednesday morning

Police taped off the parking lot of this Valu-Mart grocery store in Minden, Ont., Shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, police were called after a man allegedly refused to wear a mask and allegedly assaulted a store employee. (CBC)

Ontario's police watchdog is investigating after officers fatally shot a 73-year-old man in Haliburton County on Wednesday morning. 

The man had refused to wear a mask and allegedly assaulted a grocery store employee before driving away, Ontario Provincial Police say.

Police were called to a Valu-Mart in Minden, Ont., just after 8 a.m., OPP Sgt. Jason Folz said. 

Officers tried to stop the suspect's car, but they refrained "in the interest of public safety" before doing a follow-up investigation, Folz said.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) said the man drove away, and an officer saw the car and started following it for a short while. Based on the licence plate, officers made their way to a home on Indian Point Road, the SIU said.

2 officers fire guns, says SIU

Outside the home there was an "interaction," and two police officers fired their guns, the SIU said.

Folz said that after shots were fired, "additional resources" were brought to the area near Eagle Lake, by the village of Haliburton, about 215 kilometres northeast of Toronto.

The man was shot and taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11:47 a.m., the SIU said.

Folz said the victim was from the Eagle Lake area. 

In a news release issued Thursday morning, the SIU said investigators had recovered a pistol and a semi-automatic rifle from the scene. The firearms of two police officers were also taken into evidence, the agency said.

Investigators are continuing to search the scene Thursday, the SIU said, and also making attempts to locate the man's next of kin.

A post-mortem examination is set to be conducted Friday morning. Four OPP officers have been designated witnesses to the shooting, and arrangements for interviews are underway, the SIU said.

Tianna Frances, a worker at the Valu-Mart in Minden, says: 'If we didn't have to force him and ... tell him that he couldn't come into the store, nothing would have happened really. He would have got his groceries and went along with his day.' (CBC)

People at the grocery store had concerns about the way the man was driving in the parking lot and on the highway, Folz said.

Tianna Frances, a worker at the Valu-Mart in Minden, said she arrived for her shift at the grocery store shortly after the police were called.

"When I got here everyone was talking about it," Frances said. "My coworkers were a little bit shaken up, yes."

Frances was told that the man didn't want to wear a mask and she and other employees had to explain politely to other customers that an incident had happened earlier when they asked why the police were there.

"I guess he just got angry and didn't want to. We couldn't really deal with that ourselves because it's really against the rules. So we had to call the police and everything," Frances said.

OPP Sgt. Jason Folz could not confirm if the victim had a weapon. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Frances said workers shouldn't have to enforce the mandatory mask policy issued by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit. The policy, "Use of Non-Medical Masks in Commercial Establishments," took effect on 12:01 am on Monday.

It's causing chaos, she said.

"If we didn't have to force him and ... tell him that he couldn't come into the store, nothing would have happened, really. He would have got his groceries and went along with his day."

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Lynda Easton, manager of the Valu-Mart in Minden, began to cry when asked about the incident on Wednesday.

"I want to congratulate my staff for how they handled the situation. It was very challenging today. They are the heroes. I don't want to get emotional. They deserve the credit. That's all I want to say," Easton said. 

The SIU said four investigators and two forensic investigators have been assigned to the case.

The unit is asking anyone with information to contact the lead investigator at 1-800-787-8529. The SIU is also urging people with any video evidence to upload it through the SIU website.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ontario Provincial Police said they were investigating a "serious criminal matter" near Haliburton.

A sign in the store explains the mandatory face mask policy. (CBC)

On Twitter, the OPP had asked people to stay away from Indian Point Road near Eagle Lake but said there was no concern for public safety. 

An OPP official confirmed they had asked people to stay inside while looking for a male suspect in the Indian Point Road area.

The SIU probes incidents involving the police that have resulted in serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault.

With files from Talia Ricci