WINNIPEG – It’s the first inquest in Manitoba to study potential “systemic racism” within Winnipeg police. It’s eight years in the making and now it’s been delayed again.
The inquest will examine the case of Craig McDougall. The 26-year-old indigenous man was shot dead by police in 2008 at his home on Simcoe Street. He had recently moved to the city from Wasagamack First Nation. Police were called to his house about a “disturbance”
Police officers involved were not criminally charged. Police have maintained McDougall had a knife and refused to drop it. Relatives though, say McDougall was holding only a cell phone.
Testimony was slated to begin today but lawyers say one witness has changed their story at the last minute.
Corey Shefman, lawyer for McDougall’s family, says the change impacts the ability to move forward.
“This only came to light on Friday. The witness in question was interviewed as a normal preparation step for the inquest and the evidence was essentially 180 degrees from where it previously was,” he says. “The result is that it potentially changes, quite considerably, the course of the inquest.
Shefman says the new evidence could require further investigation.
“This new evidence potentially brings to light, conduct that needs to be investigated,” he says. When asked, he confirmed he meant police conduct. He wouldn’t elaborate on whether the witness was now alleging police did something wrong.
The inquest has adjourned until next Monday, August 15th, when its hoped a formal police statement can be taken from the witness. It’s unclear which police agency might take that statement but it won’t be Winnipeg Police.
Shefman admits the delays are frustrating, especially for McDougall’s family but that all parties want to make sure the inquest is done right, even if it means waiting a while longer.
He adds that exploring what he calls systemic racism in Canada’s entire justice system is extremely important.
“It’s such a huge issue, and every part of our justice system, from police to jails to prosecutors to defence lawyers, every part of our system has this problem,” Shefman explains. “This is a problem that’s been recognized by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
“There’s no misconception that we’re going to be able to fix the problem overnight. But by drawing attention to it, by making people think about how their worldview is, and how the policies and procedures, people can think about how they affect others around them on a racial basis.”
The main goal of any inquest, under the law, is to explore what happened and potentially make recommendations for changes moving forward.
McDougall was the nephew of J.J. Harper, an indigenous leader shot and killed by a Winnipeg Police officer in 1988. His death and another case sparked Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Inquiry.