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Police Had No Choice But To Shoot Indigenous Man

A Winnipeg police officer had no choice but to shoot an indigenous man whose death is now the subject of an inquest, a retired investigator testified Tuesday.

Former Winnipeg police sergeant Robert Bell told an inquest into Craig McDougall’s death three officers who responded to a report of a disturbance at McDougall’s home on August 2, 2008 were faced with a man brandishing a knife who ignored warnings to drop it.

“Mr. McDougall was ordered several times. He advanced, not heeding the verbal warnings,” said Bell, who was head of the homicide unit at the time.

“There were no options available other than lethal force.”

The shooting occurred at a time of heightened tension between police and Winnipeg’s indigenous community. It followed the 2005 fatal shooting of Matthew Dumas, who had refused orders to drop a screwdriver, and the 2008 death of Michael Langan, who was shocked with a stun gun after refusing to drop a knife.

Inquests into both those deaths found police acted appropriately.

McDougall’s relatives have said the 26-year-old only had a cellphone in his hands and was talking to his girlfriend when he was shot. But police have maintained McDougall was holding a large knife as officers confronted him inside the fenced front yard of his home.

Bell told the inquest McDougall got within about four metres of the officers when one fired a stun gun that failed to stop McDougall. At about a three-metre distance, one officer shot him.
The police use-of-force policy allows for lethal force to be used when someone has an “edged weapon” and refuses to drop it, Bell added.

The inquest also heard from retired sergeant Jim Pelland, who arrived at the scene five minutes after the shooting and took charge as the ranking officer.

Pelland said he saw McDougall lying on the ground where ambulance workers were trying to help him and a knife nearby.

The officers involved in the shooting were taken to police headquarters, as were three of McDougall’s relatives. Other officers canvassed the neighbourhood for more witnesses.
“The officers … had told me people had heard officers saying, ‘drop the knife’,” Pelland said.

While inquests in Manitoba are normally restricted to specific actions and events, this one has been given a broader mandate to examine whether systemic racism was a factor in McDougall’s death.

Keith McCaskill, the city’s police chief at the time who is now retired, testified Tuesday via video from Arizona.

He said he was informed of the shooting within 20 minutes of it happening, was told police had shot someone who had a knife, and called up leaders of some of Manitoba’s indigenous groups to let them know what happened.

“I was trying to establish a stronger relationship with the aboriginal community.”

The Canadian Press

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