Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

A Montreal police badge is shown during a news conference in Montreal on Oct. 7, 2019.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The recent killing of a Black Montrealer who authorities said was “in crisis” raises questions about how police approach racialized people and those with mental-health problems, according to the head of an anti-racism group.

But Fo Niemi, executive director of the Montreal-based Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said he’s waiting for witnesses and family members to come forward before taking a stand on the shooting.

Montreal police shot Sheffield Matthews, 41, Thursday morning. Quebec’s police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, is investigating along with the coroner’s office.

Story continues below advertisement

The watchdog agency said in a statement that Mr. Matthews allegedly advanced toward police holding a knife before he was shot. The statement also described Mr. Matthews as being “in crisis.”

Mr. Niemi said that statement – issued before agency investigators arrived on the scene – also raises concerns.

“We can’t rely 100 per cent on the official version, whether it comes from the police of whether it comes from the [watchdog],” Mr. Niemi said. The agency, he said, “tends to rely on police information.”

Mr. Niemi said he believes the watchdog needs to build a relationship with members of communities that are affected by “police violence and lethal force.”

Sue Montgomery, the mayor of the west-end borough where the shooting took place, described Mr. Matthews’s death as a “senseless killing” on social media.

“We need police trained to help people in crisis, not kill them,” said the mayor of Côte-Des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-De-Grâce.

The borough has a “sad and tragic history of police violence against black men,” Ms. Montgomery wrote, adding that the existence of “systemic racism” in the city’s police force is “undeniable.”

Story continues below advertisement

Yves Francoeur, the head of the union that represents Montreal police officers, condemned Ms. Montgomery’s comments in a statement, calling them “totally irresponsible.”

Mr. Niemi said he thinks Ms. Montgomery’s comments may have been premature.

“I think it would be wiser to wait a little bit for more information to come out and, more importantly, to hear from the family members before taking a stand,” he said.

Rachel Bromberg, co-founder of the Toronto-based Reach Out Response Network, which is working with the City of Toronto to create a framework for a non-police, mental-health emergency response service, said police aren’t trained to respond to mental-health crises.

“Police officers are trained to respond to crime; they’re not health workers, they’re not mental-health experts,” she said, adding that the tactics police use to respond to violent crime are often the opposite of what’s need to respond to someone in crisis.

Ms. Bromberg said that a non-police mental-health emergency service – dispatched by 911 – has been operating in Eugene, Ore., since 1989. That service has never had a staff member be seriously injured or killed on the job. Other cities in the United States have created similar programs.

Story continues below advertisement

While some Canadian cities have emergency mental-health organizations, none of them is dispatched through 911.

Ms. Bromberg said that could soon change with a number of cities, including Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, considering establishing similar services.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons or for abuse. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies