A Manitoba judge is recommending the province regulate the purchase and possession of imitation firearms, following an inquest into the deaths of two men shot by Winnipeg police.
"In Manitoba society, imitation firearms are sold for entertainment and sport," provincial court Judge Lindy Choy wrote in an inquest report released Wednesday. "While these are legitimate purposes, the potential danger associated with these devices is significant and may outweigh the entertainment purpose."
Haki Sefa, 44, and Mark DiCesare, 24, were killed in separate 2015 incidents described as "suicide by cop."
Sefa was shot and killed by officers after they pulled him over outside city limits.
DiCesare was shot after a 22-kilometre chase that ended in a standoff near the former Kapyong barracks in south Winnipeg.
Both deceased pointed firearms at police prior to being shot. In DiCesare’s case, the firearm was later determined to be a BB gun.
"When used improperly, imitation firearms cause death," Choy said. "While a portion of the population may enjoy their use in sport or entertainment, the negative impact imitation weapons have on our communities warrants the need for some regulations."
The inquest heard Sefa was the subject of a well-being call the evening of Sept. 15, 2015. Winnipeg police learned he had attended to a relative’s home and left notes saying he was going to kill himself.
A resident at the home also told police Sefa had recently purchased a gun with the intent of killing a person who had hurt a family member.
Police caught up to Sefa on Highway 59, near the intersection of Highway 44, where, after being boxed in, Sefa exited his van and pointed a handgun at officers. Three officers shot at Sefa; he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The inquest also heard that shortly after noon on Nov. 6, 2015, DiCesare drove past a police officer as she sat in her parked cruiser in Charleswood and pointed what looked like an Uzi sub-machine gun at her.
During subsequent pursuit, DiCesare rammed multiple cruisers and nearly collided with a crossing guard and two school children, before finally coming to a stop in a field at the old Kapyong barracks, where he was surrounded by 17 police vehicles.
DiCesare exited his car, pointed the firearm at his chin and told officers to go away, before returning inside his vehicle. DiCesare exited the vehicle a second time. During an exchange with police, he said: "I am not going to kill myself, you are going to do it for me," before pointing his firearm at a group of officers.
Five officers testified to shooting DiCesare, saying no less-lethal options were left to them.
"I do not think there is anything that could be changed regarding the conduct of (Winnipeg Police Service) which might serve to prevent a death from occurring in similar circumstances in the future," Choy said. "When faced with the imminent threat of a firearm being pointed directly at a police officer, there can be no choice but to respond in such a way as to effectively remove the threat."
While DiCesare’s firearm turned out to be a replica and posed no threat, there was no way for police to have known that, Choy said.
"An incorrect assumption that the weapon was fake could mean the death of one or more officers," she said.
Both shootings were deemed justified by the police watchdog Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, which decided no criminal charges should be laid against officers in either case.
Provincial Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said in an email he has received a copy of the inquest report and is "in the process of reviewing it and thoroughly examining its recommendations."