The family of a man who died in custody last week after Vancouver police used a beanbag shotgun is calling for a public inquest and systemic changes in how the department treats people on the Downtown Eastside.
Samantha Wilson told a news conference Thursday that her cousin, Chris Amyotte, died after being shot six times with the beanbag gun, highlighting a need for better police tactics.
“The system needs to change to ensure there are mechanisms in place to de-escalate situations like this,” Wilson said in a news release issued the same day.
“Shooting someone with a beanbag gun, and the use of lethal force, can’t be the first de-escalation technique employed. Beanbag guns need to be declared firearms or a lethal weapon.”
Sgt. Steve Addison of the Vancouver Police Department confirmed last week that a beanbag shotgun had been used.
“It is used as an alternative to lethal force and can be deployed against a person who is acting violently or displaying assaultive behaviour,” Addison said in a statement.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Wilson told reporters they were no longer angry and were instead seeking answers about his death.
She said she had connected with other families who have experienced similar incidents with several police departments across the country and was calling for the officers involved to be held accountable.
“I believe that, given the location of this incident in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, that my cousin Christopher was seen as just another vulnerable person in a vulnerable part of the city, and that no one would care about him if something bad happened to him,” she said.
“I’d like the Vancouver Police Department to take this as my plea (and) I’d like the IIO [Independent Investigations Office] to take this as my plea to hold the officers involved accountable.”
The IIO, B.C.’s police watchdog, said last week that it had been called in to investigate the incident, which began with calls to police about a man acting erratically. It said it had begun an investigation to determine what role, if any, police actions or inactions played in the man’s death.
In Thursday’s release, the family also called for the police department to “urgently” address “its systemic discrimination and bias against Indigenous peoples.”
It said Amyotte, an Ojibwa man from Manitoba, had been unarmed and “wasn’t acting erratically.”
“What he needed was medical help. Instead, he was shot,” Wilson said in the release.
Amyotte’s brother said his family was “devastated” by his death.
“Christopher was funny, gentle, and caring person. He was artistic. He loved art, to eat, to go to the reserve, and go bike riding,” Evan Amyotte said in the release. “He loved his family and was a good man. His family looked up to him.”
Vancouver police said last week that the man who died had asked bystanders for help following a “violent incident” that occurred moments earlier.
Addison also said the IIO would determine whether the man who died was in possession of a weapon, but “possession of a weapon is not required for deployment of a beanbag shotgun.”