An inquest into a police shooting in 2008 closed Friday with an apology for Brian McDougall, the father of the man who died.
Just before wrapping up the inquest into the death of 26-year-old Craig Vincent McDougall, provincial court Associate Chief Judge Anne Krahn addressed his father, whose ill health has been an issue through the five-week proceeding. The judge offered an unprecedented apology for Craig’s death and the years-long delay of the inquest.
"I’m very sorry that your son died the way he did. I can appreciate that this has been very difficult for you and very difficult for your family. I’m glad to see you here today, and I’m glad to see you here today looking much clearer than when you were trying to testify earlier in the inquest. It is very important that the family have involvement," Krahn said Friday afternoon.
"I want to apologize to you for my responsibility, the court’s responsibility and the system’s responsibility to not move this inquest forward in a much sooner way. I am sorry that there’s been a lack of communication to you and your family. I think it’s not good enough and it should change in the future. I’m sorry that the system has not done its best for you and your family."
Inquest lawyer David Gray acknowledged "this was not our finest hour," for the justice system in Craig's case, but he made clear that by shooting Craig, police were responding reasonably to a perceived threat.
Winnipeg Police Service lawyer Kim Carswell expressed her condolences to the McDougall family but didn't offer an apology on behalf of the police service.
Shortly after 5 a.m. on Aug. 2, 2008, police officers responded to a reported stabbing at the McDougall home on Simcoe Street in the West End. The 911 call came from Craig’s cellphone, but the report turned out to be false: there was no stabbing. When officers arrived, they knocked on the front door before noticing Craig approaching them. He had a knife in his hand. He was drunk, had a neutral expression on his face and wasn’t responding to their demands to drop the knife. In the next minute, they fired at him twice with a Taser and shot him four times. Three of the bullets hit him. He was pronounced dead in hospital around 6:30 a.m.
His father and uncle were held on the ground and handcuffed before they, as well as other family members, were taken to the Public Safety Building as witnesses. They were kept in locked rooms for between four to six hours and were never told they were free to leave.
That could change as a result of the inquest, which is the first in Manitoba to consider the role of systemic racism. The inquest was given dozens of recommendations, including that the police service change its policies on how witnesses are treated.
The judge will complete her report within six months. She may decide to make recommendations on what, if anything, could prevent future deaths, but she’s not obligated to do so.
Brian McDougall said outside court the judge's apology means a lot to him.
"I’m really glad that the inquest is over, and I finally have some answers. I know there’s still a lot of healing to go through, and I hope the judge considers the recommendations because I wouldn’t want any other family to go through what I went through," he said.
"I’m really touched by what the judge said at the end of the hearing, when she apologized for what happened to me."
— Brian McDougall, father of the 2008 police shooting victim Craig Vincent McDougall
Gray said Friday that shortly after Craig's death there was "controversy" about whether he had carried a knife. Some witnesses, according to media reports at the time, said he had a cellphone in his hand. The large kitchen knife was found a short distance away from where Craig was shot. These facts were easily explainable, Gray said, but the delay in getting to the inquest "fostered and fed" speculation.
Lawyers, including Gray, asked the judge to consider their recommendations.
Gray made several recommendations, including that all mandatory inquests — which happen in Manitoba after someone dies at the hands of police or while in government care, such as in jail or in foster care — be called for within 60 days of the death.
He recommended police in Manitoba wear body cameras, that officers involved in a shooting be required to turn over their notes to the province's Independent Investigation Unit and that police be given better training on the unit's role, as well as more frequent bias-free and indigenous cultural awareness training. Gray said officers who have to use lethal force should get the help they need and suggested a process for confidential psychological assessments.
Lawyer Corey Shefman, who represented the McDougall family, called for an inquest-monitoring system at the judicial level, a review of the chief medical examiner's office, a review of the Fatality Inquiry Act, revamped Taser policies for police and improved training.
He asked that a full public apology be made to the McDougall family on behalf of all parties involved in Craig's death and for the eight-year delay for an inquest.
"I can't state strongly enough how meaningful the judge's words were," he said. "If the police want to improve their relationship with the indigenous community, the first step is recognizing and acknowledging when they've done something wrong," Shefman said.
Carswell, the police service lawyer, took no issue with recommendations about the treatment of witnesses. She said the police service wasn't likely to object to any new recommendations for police to inform witnesses of their rights before being interviewed by police, and that police should use a form other than a "prisoner log sheet" to keep track of witness information.
Otherwise, Carswell argued the lawyers' suggestions were either already being done by WPS — as in the case of bias-free training, which began in 2015 — or are outside the judge's jurisdiction. She agreed with a review of inquest process to ensure inquests are conducted efficiently.
The inquest was delayed several times by various agencies. Following Craig's death, it took two years for the WPS homicide unit to submit its initial review of the shooting. The sergeant in charge who completed the report testified he had to prioritize active homicide cases before he could finish it. The WPS review was forwarded to the Ontario Provincial Police, which deemed the shooting justified in its review, which was completed in 2012.
The file sat on the chief medical examiner's desk for about nine months before the inquest was called. No explanation was given in court. The inquest was called in 2013, but it took years to make it to court. Brian McDougall wasn't informed there would be no charges laid in his son's death until the province's prosecutions office phoned him four years after the incident.
Shefman said Friday explanations for some of the delays were insufficient.