On the morning of July 2, Corey Hurren allegedly rammed his truck into the fence at Rideau Hall and entered the property carrying a weapon.
The crash occurred at 6:29 a.m., and RCMP officers arrived shortly thereafter (after all, both the Governor-General and Prime Minister reside on the grounds).
Police began talking with Mr. Hurren at 6:45 a.m. and, according to an RCMP spokesman, he responded at 6:53 a.m., after which a dialogue ensued. The conversation between the armed suspect and police lasted more than 90 minutes.
We don’t know what was said and it doesn’t much matter. He was arrested without incident just after 8:30 a.m. and now faces 22 criminal charges.
Mr. Hurren, a 46-year-old gun-brandishing white man, was not shot.
Contrast this to what happened to Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old brown man on the evening of June 20 in his Mississauga home.
Family members called a non-emergency helpline because their father, who suffered from schizophrenia, was having a mental-health crisis. Paramedics arrived, but they called police, apparently because Mr. Choudry had a knife. Officers used a ladder to access the balcony of his second-floor apartment, then kicked in the balcony door.
In a video circulated widely on social media, police can be heard screaming “drop the knife,” and then opening fire. Mr. Choudry was shot five times.
The timeline of this incident is a little less clear. What we know is that the initial call was placed at 5:09 p.m. and Mr. Choudry was pronounced dead at 8:38 p.m.
Deputy RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme, commenting on the arrest of Mr. Hurren, praised the officers involved for “using successful de-escalation techniques to resolve this highly volatile situation.”
In Mr. Choudry’s case, there appears to have been little or no effort to engage in a dialogue or de-escalation. Just guns blazing.
An important distinction between the two incidents is that one person was clearly committing a criminal act, and the other was obviously in the midst of a health crisis. No one can ignore the systemic racism that influenced the responses. People who are Indigenous, Black or another visible minority are clearly treated differently in their interactions with police.
In their training, police are taught to respond to threatening individuals by drawing their weapons and yelling commands. They are supposed to exert authority and establish control to end situations quickly. That works well in TV police dramas, but real life is a little more complicated.
Sick or scared people need to be calmed down, not threatened. That’s true whether they are brandishing a gun, a knife or a stick.
And what exactly is the rush in ending “situations”?
De-escalation requires a bit of patience. It’s about talking, listening, offering help. It’s about calming, not threatening.
Mr. Choudry, like most people suffering a psychotic episode, was much more of a threat to himself than anyone else. He was locked in an apartment, screaming. Family members begged police to talk him down and offered to help. All they wanted was for him to get to a hospital, to receive his medication.
So what was the hurry? Why exactly did Mr. Choudry need to be violently subdued?
Incidents such as this one – and there are many, many examples – should lead us to ask whether police should be involved in mental-health calls at all. (Between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of all police calls are related to what is euphemistically referred to as “persons in crisis,” and a CBC investigation found that “persons in crisis” have accounted for 70 per cent of police shootings in the past two decades.)
The answer is clearly, “No.”
In countries such as Sweden, the first responders are a specialized ambulance crew consisting of two mental-health nurses. They are, needless to say, unarmed. Or rather, they are armed with patience and compassion.
This goes to the heart of the discussion we need to have about defunding police: How can we best allocate public monies to serve the public?
A lot of what police have to do, including in responding to mental-health crises, overdoses, homelessness and domestic violence, can be handled much better by social workers and health professionals.
And while we’re at it, we should disarm most police. Few of their everyday tasks, such as responding to calls about lost children, noise complaints or issuing traffic tickets, require them to be armed like Rambo.
The job of police should be to protect the public from crime, not to criminalize mental illness, drug use or the colour of one’s skin.
We need to reallocate police budgets so we can have the right response to every crisis. And far less carnage.