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It’s Impossible To Find Out Exactly How Many People Are Shot By Cops in Canada

VICE News has sent dozens of requests across the country to try and obtain specific data on how often Canadian police officers shoot people. Only a partial picture has emerged.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
Handout photo of Andrew Loku, who was shot and killed by Toronto police earlier this year

Andrew Loku was shot to death within "seconds" of police arriving at his Toronto home, his friends say.

James McIntyre was slumped over, his blood pooling on the sidewalk, as an officer approached him on the streets of a Dawson Creek, BC, gun still drawn, to kick aside what appeared to be a knife.

Sammy Yatim was shot eight times by a Toronto police officer after he had brandished a small knife and wandered through an empty streetcar in the city's downtown.


Those three cases are a cross-section of police shootings that have occurred in Canada over recent years — but they don't come close to telling the full story when it comes to use of force by those wearing the badge.

A months-long effort by VICE News to obtain even the raw numbers, as well as details about the racial breakdown of those who are shot, injured or killed by police officers in Canada, has produced only a partial picture.

VICE News sent dozens of requests across the country to try and obtain specific data. No police department in Canada has been forthcoming. Few provinces proactively publish aggregate data on police use of force. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police was the only agency to provide data to VICE News, albeit without any of the detail requested. Most other departments publish limited data in their annual reports, usually without data about injuries or deaths. Some police departments do not publish use of force data at all.

The lack of data has already frustrated activists who are calling for greater clarity on the matter amid added scrutiny in the United States over police shootings. The Canadian chapter of Black Lives Matter has made a direct appeal for increased reporting and statistics, but have thus far received no cooperation.

Data provided to VICE News by the RCMP, which handles local policing in rural parts of the country, shows that 28 people died after being shot by the federal police force between 2010 and 2014, with dozens more suffering injuries.


Those numbers likely do not include the July shooting of Daniel McIntyre in Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

Over the same four-year period, a civilian watchdog group in Ontario reviewed a total of 84 cases of police shootings, compiled from all police forces in the province. In 39 of those cases, the individual died.

Data from 2015 shows that Ontario police shot and killed another six individuals in 2015.

In BC, police shot and killed 10 people from mid-2012 to mid-2015, although some of those shootings may have been at the hands of RCMP officers.

However, when VICE News tried to obtain detailed information on those deaths and injuries — their age, gender, and race; their mental health status; whether they were armed or unarmed — the RCMP refused.

We requested reports from the Subject Behaviour / Officer Response database (SBOR), which was advertised as bringing "stronger accountability to the public" by recording use of force incidents.

Related: Police Have Killed At Least 1,083 Americans Since Michael Brown's Death

However, that database has remained largely secret, and access to information requests filed to the RCMP asking for reports from that database were refused.

The only information from the SBOR database released publicly appears to be around the use of tasers. The RCMP began publishing quarterly reports from the database about the use of the energy weapons following the death of Polish national Robert Dzieka?ski in a Vancouver airport after being repeatedly tasered by the RCMP. Those reports, which ceased in 2010, generally reported a low injury rate, and no fatalities directly associated with the tasering.


Statistics proactively published by the independent Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which reviews all of Ontario's police bodies, show a similar result.

Of the 39 fatal police shootings in Ontario between 2010 to 2014, 16 were in Toronto. Another 17 people were injured when police opened fired in the country's biggest city. According to the statistics, another 96 Ontarians died in police custody over the same period, although there is a lack of detail as to the nature of those deaths.

When the Toronto Star conducted an investigation into these numbers last week, officials from the Ontario government told the newspaper it would be up to local police forces to release data regarding the race of those shot by police.

Graphic from Daily VICE

The police forces in other provinces are significantly less forthcoming. VICE News made repeated phone calls, emails, and access to information requests that resulted in the same response: the reports are available on our website.

The Edmonton police force publishes use of force statistics in their annual reports, but offer virtually no detail.

A 2013 report notes that the city's police employed force over 6,000 times, but offers little insight into the results of the physical contact. Edmonton police, for example, pointed their weapons 119 times in 2013, and fired once. The report doesn't note whether the subject was injured or killed.

That shooting, however, appears to be an incident outside a city mall where a man armed with a knife was involved in a standoff with officers. Before opening fire, police pepper sprayed and tasered the man — at which point he charged at the officers — which appears to follow guidelines that exist for most Canadian police departments, requiring cops to go through various levels of escalation before employing deadly force.


A separate 2013 report from an oversight body that covers all police forces in Alberta reports that it investigated two situations where police shot and killed individuals in the province, without detailing where the deaths occurred.

Winnipeg's statistics are even more vague. One 2014 report tabulates 546 "firearm" incidents over a three year period, but does not detail whether those are instances where service weapons were drawn, pointed, or fired.

In Victoria, an independent audit of the force from 2010 found that despite having a "progressive" system in place to monitor use of force, "the Victoria Police Department, among other police departments in the province, had not previously analyzed use of force data." When the audit finally received the data, they found a relatively low number of use of force reports — just 640 over two years — and reported that the subject was injured in just a quarter of those instances, with seemingly none resulting in death.

That audit further found that "13 officers (or 5 percent of the department) generated almost one third of all use of force reports."

In 2013, British Columbia began publishing more detailed reports on police use of force. In those reports, they include some race and age data, showing that, last year, 20 percent of use of force cases involved Aboriginal civilians.

Other departments, like the Halifax Police Department, appears to have no publicly available statistics about use of force. Their officers have been the subject of multiple lawsuits over excessive force. A request for that data by VICE News went unanswered.


The current patchwork of reports means that determining a firm number of those who have died in police shootings, or in police custody, is impossible. Cobbling together the available data suggests that there are certainly dozens of police shootings per year.

The last time any sort of nation-wide statistics of police shootings were compiled was likely in 1998, when a Toronto Police report tabulated 160 cases where police shot a subject in Canada's major urban centres. The data, which covers a 10-year period from 1988 to 1998, found that less than a third of those shot later died of their wounds.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) made an attempt to obtain more data from local police departments in 2010, but to no avail.

"Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador failed to provide the BCCLA with any information regarding police-involved deaths in their jurisdictions. Several other jurisdictions only provided cursory information, making it impossible to generate a national picture of the phenomenon," the BCCLA wrote in a 2012 report.

Seemingly the only substantive analysis of the degree to which police force can affect racialized communities comes from the 2006 Ipperwash Inquiry, which was struck to investigate the death of Dudley George, who was shot and killed when police officers opened fire on his car during a protest. One officer was convicted in relation to that death, after a judge found scant evidence to back up the officer's testimony that George was armed at the time.


One report, prepared for that inquiry, notes that "despite growing public concern and allegations of police bias with respect to the use of physical force, very little Canadian research has actually addressed this issue."

The report uses data from the SIU — despite the fact that the unit told the Toronto Star that they did not have access to data on the race of subjects — that found a disproportionately high amount of use of force cases involving black and Aboriginal Ontarians.

Related: After Years of Outcry, Toronto Could End Controversial Policing Practice

The report found that black Ontarians were five times more likely to be killed or injured due to police force, whereas Aboriginal subjects were six times as likely.

When the report analyzed just the data from Toronto, it found that black residents of the city were nearly ten times as likely to be shot and killed by police than the city average. Despite comprising less than 7 percent of the city's population, they accounted for more than two-thirds of the police shooting victims from 2000 to 2006.

And despite the common argument that police force disproportionately hits black individuals because they are more likely to be criminal, the 2006 report simply does not bear that out.

The report shows that, of those who were injured and killed by a police shooting, black Ontarians were significantly less likely to have a criminal record — 72 percent of white shooting victims had criminal convictions, as opposed to just 45 percent of the black Ontarians who were shot. Similarly, caucasians were more likely to be intoxicated at the time of the shooting.


The report similarly found in 79 percent of the cases involving a white subject, they were reported to be threatening or assaulting police or civilians, as opposed to just 60 percent of cases involving black subjects. A quarter of black subjects were shot while "fleeing police" or "resisting arrest," as opposed to just 7 percent for white subjects.

The report also found roughly a quarter of those shot by police had a history of mental health issues.

That appears to be the case for Andrew Loku, a Toronto resident who was shot to death by police in July. Loku was living in housing for those living with mental health issues, when police were called over a disturbance. When they arrived, he was holding a hammer. He refused to drop the hammer, instead taking a few steps towards the officers. Within "seconds," witnesses said, he was dead.

Two years earlier, an officer shot 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, who had a history of mental illness, as he brandished a small knife on a Toronto streetcar. That officer now faces murder charges.

Obviously, Canadian police officers have also lost their lives on the thin blue line. At least 24 have been killed since 2000, either of gunfire or stabbing.

The 2014 Moncton shootings are likely the most prominent case of anti-police violence in Canadian history, as gunman Justin Bourque opened fire on RCMP officers stationed in the city, killing three and wounding two. Nine years earlier, James Roszko opened fire on RCMP officers when they entered his property, killing four officers.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling