Two and a half months after a one-year-old baby was shot and killed during a confrontation in a rural Ontario community, the province’s police watchdog has disclosed that an officer fired the fatal shot.
“The SIU can today confirm that the child’s death on Nov. 26, 2020, in Kawartha Lakes was the result of being shot by police,” the Special Investigations Unit, which investigates encounters with police that end in serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault, said in a statement on Thursday.
Around 8:45 that morning, according to the SIU, the OPP received a report that a father had abducted his son from the municipality of Trent Lakes. A short time later, a pickup truck “of interest” was located near Lindsay in Kawartha Lakes. Officers were attempting to stop the truck, the SIU said, when it collided with an OPP cruiser and another car, injuring an officer who was on the road laying down a spike belt.
At this point, the SIU has said only that “an interaction ensued between the 33-year-old vehicle driver and officers” when three officers began shooting. The man and the one-year-old child were struck. The baby was pronounced dead at the scene. The man was airlifted to hospital and died a week later.
Because a handgun was found in the truck in addition to three police firearms seized from the scene, the SIU was initially unable to say which gun fired the shot that killed the child. The statement released on Thursday did not clarify whether the man’s handgun was fired.
The three police firearms included two rifles. OPP patrol cars have Colt Canada C8 carbines, similar to rifles issued to Canadian Forces.
In its statement on Thursday, the SIU cited forensic evidence and reports prepared by the Centre of Forensic Sciences.
The SIU said it will continue to investigate whether the officers should face criminal charges in the case. The three subject officers who fired their weapons have declined to be interviewed by the SIU, as is their Charter right.
The SIU has not released the names of the baby or his father.
On Twitter, OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique offered condolences to the baby’s family. OPP spokesman Bill Dickson said the officer who was injured is recovering “after a lengthy hospital stay.”
In a statement, the union representing OPP officers expressed condolences to the boy’s family, but declined to comment on the case, citing respect for the investigative process.
Emily Lam, a lawyer at Toronto firm Kastner Lam who has previously focused on police use of force, said the incident raises questions about how prepared OPP officers were before the encounter.
“What concerns me with some of these use-of-force cases is that there seems to be a lack of communication between the officers investigating,” she said. “They all discharged their firearms. The question then becomes: Is that co-ordinated, organized discharge? Or is it that all of a sudden this person has a gun, and now we’re all just going to shoot at him?”
If no criminal charges are laid after the SIU investigation, Ms. Lam said she would like to see the officers’ conduct examined further.
Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham offered condolences to the child’s family, and said he does not hold the police responsible.
“The tragic death of this little boy was a direct result of actions taken by his father that day,” he said. “My heart goes out to the mother. My heart goes out to the police officers and their families. I can’t imagine what they’re going through today.”
Mr. Letham said he would wait for the SIU’s full investigation before deciding how the city would respond. “I think it’s probably a conversation we’ll have around council,” he said.
“This is a small, rural community up here,” he said. “Our police do a great job keeping us safe. They’re our friends, they’re our neighbours, they’re part of our community. When something like this happens – how do we prevent it from happening again?”
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