A former soldier who was fatally shot by RCMP had been bullied by his comrades in the Canadian military and then harassed by police, his sister told jurors Monday at the start of a coroner’s inquest into his death.
Greg Matters was shot twice in the back with an M-16 rifle during a confrontation with an RCMP emergency response team at his rural property near Prince George, B.C., in September 2012.
His sister, Tracey Matters, described a shy man who joined the military to do good in the world, and who ended up injured and ultimately discharged from the military.
“I understand there’s a bit of a bullying culture in the military and if you’re unable to keep up your physical end of things, then you could actually start to become a target of bullying,” she told the jury.
“I believe Greg was working though his pain, but it got to a point where he wasn’t able to fulfil all of his duties as a soldier.
“I believe there was bullying happening.”
Matters was honourably discharged in 2009, after a 15-year military career that included a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, where a former comrade told Matters’s family he would collect the treats and juice boxes from ration kits to hand out to local children.
Matters said she didn’t recognize her brother when he came home. He was anxious, withdrawn, suffered nightmares and barely slept.
Ultimately, she got in touch with a clinic that specialized in soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and her brother began to see a psychiatrist.
“He was making tremendous progress,” she testified.
But the lawyer for the Attorney-General, Andrew Kemp, painted a very different picture of the former soldier.
He asked the woman if she was aware of several previous incidents that brought Matters into contact with RCMP, including his arrest for assaulting his brother and another for uttering threats to kill the local Crown lawyer.
He was also reported to Mounties over harassing e-mails sent to his former psychiatrist in New Brunswick, where he had been based, Kemp pointed out.
“Were you aware that he had several run-ins with police before this unfortunate incident?” Kemp asked Tracey Matters, who came from Australia, where she has lived for 25 years, to attend the inquest.
“I thought it was Greg’s post-traumatic stress disorder, but he would often tell me about incessant police harassment,” Matters replied. “He believed he was under surveillance and his phones were tapped. And he believed his car had been bugged. I thought it was paranoia as a result of his post-traumatic stress disorder.”
She alluded to her brother’s arrest in 2010 for assaulting his brother.
“He had been picked up by police, and I would say beaten up,” Tracey Matters said. “He required cosmetic surgery to his face on that occasion.
“He believed he was being treated unfairly and I believed he was being treated unfairly.”
Cameron Ward, a lawyer hired by the Matters family to represent them at the inquiry, said in his opening statement to the four men and three women on the coroner’s jury that they will hear evidence this week that police knew Matters didn’t have any firearms when they arrived on his rural property.
They showed up in the evening, without a warrant, cut through the lock on the gate and confronted Matters 40 hours after what Ward described as a minor incident in an ongoing feud between Matters and his brother.
“Consider, as you hear the evidence unfold, what the effect on Mr. Matters, a Bosnian war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, alone in his farmhouse when four heavily armed police officers wearing camouflage fatigues enter, a helicopter circling overhead,” Ward told the jury.
Matters’s mother dabbed tears from her eyes as pictures of her son were shown to the jury on a large screen and the family’s lawyer explained the circumstances of his death.
Kemp, however, told jury members that as they hear the evidence, they may find suicide is one conclusion that could be open to them.
British Columbia’s Independent Investigations Office has cleared the officers involved of criminal wrongdoing, but the RCMP watchdog is conducting a separate investigation.
The coroner’s jury cannot find fault, but can make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future.