Filed under: Analysis, Police, Prairies
On Wednesday, September 27th, police in the small Canadian city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan opened fire on a man in the city’s downtown core, wounding him. According to police, they responded to a call around 3 PM that a man was breaking car windows with a pipe. When they arrived on the scene, the man appeared to be carrying a long metal pipe and did not obey orders from officers to surrender. They then fired a Taser at him (initially described by police as a “conducted energy weapon”) and when that proved ineffective, they fired beanbag rounds, before opening fire with live ammunition. In addition to being shot, the man was also mauled by a police dog and remains in hospital. Police maintain that the man shot at them with a firearm they were able to obtain, which they discovered still had a round in its chamber. This so-called firearm was later re-labelled an “improvised firearm” and was ostensibly created out of the metal pipe that the man was holding.
The police, with the aid of the local media (which is backed by and publicly endorses the right-wing, Canadian Conservative Party) were quick to lay the groundwork for a positive PR spin, praising the “restraint” of the officers involved and making zero attempt to question the events as they had occurred.
Video footage of some of the incident, however, contradicts statements made by both the police and the media in several ways. In the wake of the shooting, one local media site reported that the police were “forced to fire at the suspect after he pulled a weapon out and began shooting towards them.” However, at no point in the below video is the man seen pulling out a weapon. Instead, he maintains his grasp on a metal pipe the entire time.
In a press conference, the acting chief of the Saskatoon Police stated that the suspect fired at officers first, after refusing to be taken into police custody, at which point officers pursued the suspect on foot and returned fire. The video seems to debunk this sequence of events in that no sign of any shot is fired from the pipe that the man is carrying – a fact that is further cemented by none of the officers on the scene either retreating or diving for cover at any point, as well as there being no visible blast from the pipe’s end. The volume of the exchange has oddly been removed from most media of the incident, though what sounds like what could be beanbag rounds are heard in this video and the source of the bangs are not coming from the suspect as he begins to flee.
The man is seen lowering and raising the pipe at one point, possibly in an effort to knock away the Taser that had been fired at him, repel the police dog that was being lead toward him or in a physical reaction to the force of the beanbag rounds. The acting police chief has also stated that the sounds heard in the video are of “less-lethal weapons being deployed by police, as well as the suspect firing a shot at officers.”
And while the acting police chief said that it was “extremely fortunate” that no bystanders were hurt, at least one bullet went through the second floor window of a nearby office building, into its boardroom. Thankfully, the boardroom was empty at the time, but at least a dozen people were in the next-door office at the moment the incident occurred. Unsurprisingly, it is this issue that has received the least amount of scrutiny and attention from either the police or the media.
The police version of events sees the suspect firing at them first, then running down the street with police in pursuit. He turned the corner and was eventually shot, a little over a block from where the incident initially began. The alleged “improvised firearm” was then recovered by police, the likes of which police claim contained a round in its chamber. As far as the bullet that went through the second floor window of the office building? After it was recovered by police, a police spokesperson said “Whose it was, we don’t know yet. As the dust settles, that will be something investigators are working to determine.”
Had the bullet belonged to the suspect’s “gun,” this would mean that there had been at least three rounds loaded into a metal pipe (one shot at police, one shot through the window, one left in the chamber). Furthermore, the bullet hole in the window was found adjacent to where the suspect was shot and not at the opposite end of the street, in the direction that the police would have been pursuing from. The bullet’s location is far more in line with the trajectory that the police would have been taking aim from. Considering (according to eyewitnesses) that the police fired at least four shots, it’s difficult to understand how a man with a pipe could be responsible.
So, what’s being hailed as a show of “restraint” on the part of the Saskatoon Police is quite possibly, under a more stringent examination, exactly the opposite; a gross display of excessive force and misjudgement that the police are now actively working to spin in their favor. If the media and greater public reaction to the events are any indication of success, then the police have indeed achieved their end goal.
And yet even as the suspect remains in hospital and is expected to be charged with possession of a weapon dangerous to the public, careless use of a firearm and even more pending charges, no evidence of the car windows he was said to have smashed has arisen, meaning the only thing we know for certain that he was guilty of was standing in the street with a metal pipe. Such a thing may not pose the most comforting of sights, but a team of police, armed to the teeth, firing “less-lethal” and live ammunition weapons into a small downtown area in the middle of a weekday afternoon certainly seems far more threatening to the lives of citizens.
The Saskatoon Police have a lengthy history of misconduct over the years, with perhaps the most publicized (and disturbing) issues coming in the early 2000s, when it was revealed that over the course of several years, numerous officers had been taking Indigenous youths to the outskirts of the city during the winter months and dropping them off. This practice, known by police as “Starlight Tours” resulted in the freezing deaths of Rodney Naistus, Lawrence Wegner and Neil Stonechild. Winters are especially brutal in Saskatoon, with temperatures typically dropping anywhere between -20 to -30 degrees Celsius (-4 to -22 degrees Fahrenheit) and often even colder. With these sorts of extremes, it’s easy to understand how being dropped off on the outskirts of a city on the Canadian prairies with no phone or aid can and did quite easily result in death sentences.
More recently, the police have been accused of profiling First Nation people (particularly the youth), through street checks such as this one.
In addition to this, the police (with the almost gleeful and unwavering PR aid of local media outlets), have embarked on a lengthy and costly militarization campaign in which they’ve gained a noisy and extremely disruptive CDN $500,000 a year surveillance airplane (recently outfitted with $155,000 worth of mapping software and a new HD camera, valued at more than $300,000), as well as a $365,000 Lenco BearCat armored personnel carrier. They’ve also recently moved into a brand new, $122 million headquarters. All of this in a small municipality of under 300,000 people, where the city’s most central hospital closes its emergency room doors at 8:30pm each night due to budgetary constraints and the province’s rural bus service has been gutted in a fresh and lengthy wave of austerity measures, courtesy of the province’s ruling Conservative Party.
Saskatoon is a very racially divided city when it comes to its First Nation population and the stench of racism is all too often prevalent, though very seldom addressed in any significant capacity. In 2015, iconic 1960’s folk singer Joni Mitchell (who hails from Saskatoon) made news when she said, “Saskatoon has always been an extremely bigoted community. It’s like the deep south.” With a media that habitually lauds the police for every so-called success they achieve, the majority of the public unsurprisingly side with the cops, failing to question anything and everything that goes on. Wednesday’s shooting was no different; with social media and comments sections offering everything from direct hero worship for the police to dismay that the police didn’t finish the suspect off to racist Twitter trolls attempting to pin the incident on “a Somali who illegally crossed from USA into Canada.”
At present, Saskatoon Police are asking that anyone with footage of the incident come forward. If you or anyone you know has footage of the incident, please consider the risks of collaborating with the police. It’s arguable that the footage is being sought in order to be disposed of or manipulated to suit the police sequence of events and not for public clarification of what actually occurred. Now more than ever, communities everywhere must engage in constant questioning of practices undertaken by police. Without responsible analysis of the events by the public, we are left to the whims of police rhetoric and media that is always willing to support whatever status quo narrative they are fed. In this way, there can be no discussion of wanton use of firearms by police, which is exactly what the police and media want. It is the responsibility of all communities to scrutinize, question and discuss everything the police do, whether in a tiny, obscure city like Saskatoon or bigger centers elsewhere.