Day 6

Heather Thompson says it's been way too hard to find out why police killed her son

From Abdirahman Abdi's death to the sentencing of Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo for the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, police violence dominated the headlines again this week. Brent speaks with Heather Thompson, whose son Ian Pryce was killed by Toronto police in 2013, about the barriers she faced in getting answers about his death.
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 3: Heather Thompson holding a photo of her son Ian Pryce in her home in Toronto, January 3, 2015. Pryce was killed by police in November of 2013. (Marta Iwanek / Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The mother of a man who was shot and killed by police says she was shocked to find out she would be responsible for paying for her own legal representation during her son's coroner's inquest, or else represent herself.

"That hit me like you wouldn't believe," says Heather Thompson, whose 30-year-old son Ian Pryce, was shot and killed by police in 2013.

He had been holding a pellet gun and suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

To lose your loved one and then have to go into debt to pay legal fees is just not right- Heather Thompson, whose son was killed by Toronto police in 2013

"It's like the most unfair and unjust thing that I've ever come across. My son was killed at the hands of police and when I look around the courtroom, there were like 5 different lawyers representing them [the police officers] and there was only my lawyer [representing me]," says Thompson.

She says it's not right for families who've lost loved ones to police violence, to be expected to pay legal fees at coroner's inquiries — while police officers have their legal fees covered. 

"To lose your loved one and then have to go into debt to pay legal fees is just not right," says Thompson.

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 3: Ian Pryce was killed by Toronto police in November of 2013. He suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. (Marta Iwanek/Toronto Star via Getty Images) (Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Navigating the inquest

After Ontario's police oversight body, the Special Investigations Unit, cleared two officers in Pryce's death, a coroner's inquest followed. The purpose of the inquest was to find out why the death occurred, and to prevent similar deaths in the future.

"That [coroner's inquest] was the only avenue for me to get information as to how, when and why my son was killed. I actually heard and saw clips for the first time, as to how he was killed. And I was not prepared for any of it. I didn't know what was involved," says Thompson.

Thompson says finding a lawyer to represent her in the inquiry was difficult. She says one lawyer offered to represent her, for about $6,000 per week for the 3 week inquiry. And then she found Toronto-based lawyer Peter Rosenthal, who represented her pro bono.

"If I did not have Peter asking the right questions, none of this inquiry would have made sense and I would not have been able to do it myself. Although I was told that I could represent myself," she adds.

The race factor

Thompson says she wants to give people the benefit of the doubt and doesn't want to "play the race card." But given the number of black people dying at the hands of police lately, she says it's impossible to ignore. 

"It is evident that every time a police officer comes up against a black person, the black person loses."

With details surrounding the death of Abdirahman Abdi by Ottawa police still emerging, Thompson says the road ahead will be incredibly difficult — and possibly costly —  for his family.

"My heart goes out to them because there's no easy way to deal with such a devastating blow. And to be treated so inhumanely by police officers, it just kills me everytime I hear this," says Thompson.