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The Truth We Seek: BIPOC, Mental Health & the Law


On June 4th, 2020, the RCMP responded to a wellness check in Edmundston, New Brunswick, regarding an individual in distress. That call would end in the death of Chantal Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman from Tla-o-q

ui-aht First Nation.


News of her death flooded the country as people wondered aloud how a wellness check could turn into a murder scene? As Minister Marc Miller remarked of his shock, “when I first saw the report I thought it was some morbid joke.”[1]


But it wasn’t a sick joke, nor was it an anomaly.


In fact, Black and Indigenous people in Canada face police-involved deaths in staggering numbers disproportionate to their population.[2] A study from 2016 found that while “Black people accounted for about 9.2% of cases” of police-involved death, they make up “just 3.5 percent of the Canadian population” and Indigenous people who represent 4.9% of the population make up more than a third of those fatally shot by the RCMP.[3]


In the months before and after Chantal Moore’s death, five other BIPOC people died in Canada during wellness checks. 62-year-old Ejaz Ahmed Choudry was shot and killed in his home during a wellness check, Rodney Levi was shot in the backyard of a church minister;s home where he had gone to ask for mental health help, 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell from her balcony, Caleb Tubila Njoko fell from his balcony, and D’Andre Campbell was shot in his home after making a call for assistance during a mental health crisis.[4] All five died during what should have been moments of response to their cries for help. All five were killed by police.


Ejaz Ahmed Choudry. Rodney Levi. Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Caleb Tubila Njoko. D’Andre Campbell. Chantal Moore.


What binds these lives together is not only their shared experience as members of racialized groups and their mental health experiences but also that in each case investigation, all RCMP members were cleared of wrongdoing by their independent watchdog organizations.


And that may be true and just.


But through what lens do we see and seek justice?


The officer involved in Chantal Moore’s death was initially cleared by Quebec’s Bureau of Independent Investigation.[5] An investigative bureau housed in a province whose Premier boldly stated that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec.[6] As Elizabeth Goodridge writes, “there are some things to consider when deciding whether it might be inappropriate and inadequate to engage a police watchdog group from a province that takes the official line that there is no systemic racism in that province, especially in light of a report by lawyer and professor Fannie Lafontaine on transparency within the Bureau.” [7]


Because the question of how a wellness check turns into a murder scene can only be answered through the lens of one’s own lived experiences, knowledge, and internalized bias. When we close our minds to the idea of institutional and systemic racism, we remove the ability to see the intersection where it meets the lives of our neighbours. We lose the chance at moving forward in safety. We see the disproportionate rates of BIPOC people facing police-involved deaths, the intersection of mental health crises in racialized communities, and the inadequate responses, but we dismiss the intersection and connection of these three things. We silo these issues for comfort.


But justice is often found in the discomfort.


Justice is found in the moments where an individual experiencing a mental health crisis calls an emergency line and finds help. Not a death penalty.


And if we are going to move forward in either Truth or Reconciliation, we must first acknowledge that truth and justice are cut from the same cloth. To experience one, we must allow for the other to take shape. Not only through the lens that we seek it through, but by affirming the ways in which others do too.


Until next time,


ReconciliACTION YEG


[1] "Minister Says Reckoning on Police Violence Against Indigenous People Needed" (5 Jun 2020), online: National Post <https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/minister-says-reckoning-on-police-violence-against-indigenous-people-needed-2>.

[2] ”Wellness Checks Are All over the News. But What Are They?” (16 Jun 2020), online: Chatelaine <https://www.chatelaine.com/health/what-is-a-wellness-check/>.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “New Brunswick Police Officer Who Shot Chantal Moore Won’t Be Charged” (7 Jun 2021), online: CBC <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/chantel-moore-no-charges-officer-shooting-police-1.6056025>.

[6] “Quebec pledges to create plan to fight racism and discrimination” (3 June 2020), online: National Post <https://nationalpost.com/news/quebec/legault-digs-in-systemic-racism-does-not-exist-in-quebec-he-says>.

[7] “Chantel Moore was killed one year ago today and nothing has changed” (7 Jun 2021), online: NBC Media <https://nbmediacoop.org/2021/06/07/chantel-moore-was-killed-one-year-ago-today-and-nothing-has-changed/>.

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