By Gerry Barker
Posted June 18, 2015
Like most people in Guelph, I am concerned about the circumstances of the shooting death of a man by police in the hospital’s emergency waiting room.
It seems incongruous that the local police department or the Special Investigations Unit investigating the incident have failed to stem public fears of the safety of just going to the hospital for treatment.
A man, an apparent patient, was shot nine times by two Guelph police officers in the waiting room of the hospital emergency department.
There is no official explanation of what happened that day a month ago. Did the man have a gun, a knife or some weapon that would cause the officers to shoot him? There is no explanation of these circumstances that led to deadly force by police.
The longer the information remains locked up, the more suspicious the public will become.
The question people are asking is: “ Was it a righteous shooting?” Were the officers in danger of being wounded or even killed by the victim?
This is the crux of the case. If there was no immanent danger to persons in the waiting room, the staff or the police, did the officers panic, draw their weapons and open fire? Was it a case of split-second decisions on the part of the officers? Whatever the outcome of the SIU investigation, there must be a new emphasis of operational training as it pertains to use of firearms by the Guelph Police Services.
In my younger days as a reporter for the Toronto Star, I was assigned to the police beat and I got to know a lot of cops. My favourite story about police operations in those long-gone days was about a motorcycle officer whose patrol area was Amour Heights in North Toronto. Every day Constable Hamilton would put on his gear and drive off for his shift. “Ham” never carried a gun in his career. He always carried a ham sandwich in his holster for lunch. Ah well, as the desk sergeant used to tell me: “nothing ever happens in North Toronto.”
Times have changed. In my view, Guelph police are not always open and are closed- mouthed about their operations. A police services board composed of civilians, whose main occupation appears to be protect the force and stay out of the line of fire.
This means hunkering down and leaving the public in the dark.
One does not have to look too far in the past to remember the way the Guelph police handled the dreadful death of Constable Jennifer Kovach. The police clammed up and even the victim’s mother, Coun. Gloria Kovach, could not gain access to the accident report until four months after the crash that killed her daughter.
The hospital shooting is a rare occurrence. The victim is dead. The police officers responsible were back on the job just two days after the shooting. That folks was a public relations blunder.
What does this tell the public? That it was a “righteous shooting?”
Already some segments of the public are describing the victim as a harmless, sweet, mentally disturbed young man. He was known to police and the hospital staff. And what do you expect? People are upset, not just curious. This is something that affects every person who uses the hospital facilities.
It affects the safety of patients who must mingle with persons who may be unstable and potentially dangerous. There must be police and hospital assurance this event was isolated and unpredictable. To do this, the police and SIU must explain in detail what happened and what steps are being taken to prevent it from ever occurring again in a public building.
Just what happened that awful day? A man died at police hands and we are not informed of the circumstances?
Here’s hoping the details of this tragedy are soon released if, for no other reason, than it’s the public’s right to know.