Vancouver police say a man who died after officers used a beanbag shotgun on Monday had asked bystanders for help following a “violent incident” that occurred moments earlier.
Police have not confirmed the man’s identity, but the family of Chris Amyotte, an Ojibway man from Manitoba, says it was he who died on the Downtown Eastside.
Amyotte’s cousin, Samantha Wilson, said witnesses told her he had been bear-sprayed and was asking for help before police arrived at the scene, and Amyotte was unarmed.
Sgt. Steve Addison of the Vancouver Police Department said the Independent Investigations Office, B.C.'s police watchdog, had jurisdiction over the investigation.
However, he said the VPD believed the man who died “did ask for help from a number of bystanders, who did not offer assistance.”
“When our officers arrived, they attempted to communicate with the man verbally. Witnesses have reported that there was a confrontation,” he said in an emailed statement Thursday.
Addison, who said in a news conference on Monday that a beanbag shotgun had been used, called the weapon “a safe and effective less-lethal tool.”
“It is used as an alternative to lethal force and can be deployed against a person who is acting violently or displaying assaultive behaviour,” Addison said in the statement.
He said the IIO would determine whether the man who died was in possession of a weapon, but "possession of a weapon is not required for deployment of a beanbag shotgun.”
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples said it was "furious" to hear about the death.
Kim Beaudin, national vice-chief with the organization, said in a statement Thursday that the incident was a tragedy that showcased the "deep and ongoing failures by police when dealing with Indigenous people in distress."
“Indigenous people are 10 times more likely to be shot and killed by police in Canada, and it’s time for it to stop," he said in the statement.
Wilson said Amyotte, who was from the Rolling River First Nation in Manitoba, arrived in Vancouver on Aug. 17 to visit family members. Days later, the family would learn the father of seven had died, Wilson said.
“It's not something you expect to be told. I’m very angry,” she said in an interview Thursday.
After hearing the news, Wilson said she looked on social media to see if she could get any more information.
She said she connected with eyewitnesses who told her Amyotte was the victim of a bear-spray attack and that he was asking for help when he removed some of his clothing and began pouring milk on himself to try and counteract the spray.
A Vancouver police press statement said Monday that a man had been taken into custody after an "interaction" with officers, but he went into medical distress and lost consciousness.
"Despite life-saving attempts, the man died at the scene," the statement said.
The IIO said Tuesday that it had been called in to investigate the incident, which began with calls to police responding to a report of a man acting erratically. It said it has begun an investigation to determine what role, if any, police actions or inactions played in the man’s death.
Wilson said she would like to see the officers involved held accountable.
“I'd like to see them charged. He asked for help numerous times. (The witnesses) said he wasn't a threat to public safety, that he wasn't trying to hurt anybody. They said he had his arms up in the air before he was shot. He didn't have a weapon. He had a jug of milk in his hand," she said.
"He was an unarmed Indigenous man asking for help and when help arrived, they took his life."
She said Amyotte's family members from Manitoba have travelled to Vancouver to help arrange for Amyotte’s body to be brought back to Rolling River, where he will be buried.
"My nieces and my nephews have to live without their father," Wilson said. "My family is currently making arrangements to bring him home and we don't even know if these officers have been placed on administrative leave, or if they're still working the streets. We don't know anything."
While the IIO said it cannot comment on specific cases, spokesperson Rebecca Whalen said there have been 16 police-involved shootings in B.C. since its fiscal year began in April. This, she said, has already doubled the eight shootings it investigated last year.
"There are more (shootings) this year," she said in an interview Thursday. "Now, I can't speculate as to why that might be — there could be any number of reasons — but all we know is that there has been an increase this year."
However, she noted a beanbag gun would not be classified as a firearm shooting, and instead would fall under the use-of-force category.
"We actually don't track statistics on use of a beanbag gun specifically," she said.
In its 2021-22 annual report, the office cited 39 use-of-force incidents last year. It said use of force was the "leading cause of serious harm at 28 per cent of all serious harm investigations."
— By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver and Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2022.
The Canadian Press