Better communication may have prevented 2017 Nunavik shooting death: coroner’s report
The KRPF says it’s already implemented a number of the report’s recommendations
Nunavik police say they are on board with recommendations made by Quebec’s coroner’s office following the 2017 death of an Umiujaq man.
The report calls on the Kativik Regional Police Force to hire more Inuit officers and staff and use tools to help de-escalate violent encounters.
David Sappa, 22, was shot and killed by Kativik Regional Police Force officers in Umiujaq on Dec. 28, 2017, after the man was alleged to have posed a safety threat to the community of about 400 people.
According to an investigation and report prepared by the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, or BEI, KRPF officers were called to respond to a disturbance at Sappa’s home in the middle of the afternoon that day.
When the 22-year-old refused to co-operate with police, one officer returned to the local station to obtain an entry warrant.
During that time, Sappa is alleged to have left his home, armed with knives, while he made his way to the community centre where holiday activities were being held.
Police officers tried to prevent Sappa from entering the centre, the BEI report said, but when the armed man turned towards police, officers shot him. Sappa died that evening at the local health centre.
A report by Quebec coroner Éric Lépine, released on June 5, said that Sappa sustained three to four gunshots, one of which wounded him fatally.
The coroner said Sappa had no alcohol in his system at the time, but had consumed cannabis—four nanograms per millilitre, or double the legal limit to drive.
In 2019, Quebec’s Crown prosecutor’s office cleared the officers involved in Sappa’s death of any wrongdoing, saying the officers acted in self-defence.
The coroner’s report noted the threat to officers was “immediate and put their lives in danger” but also added that “Sappa’s death was not inevitable.”
The coroner said communication was a major barrier between police, who spoke in English, and Sappa, whose first language was Inuktitut. Had police been able to communicate with Sappa in Inuktitut, that would have had the potential to diffuse the situation, the coroner said.
The report made five recommendations directed to the KRPF:
- Recruit and hire Inuit officers, with the goal of stationing one in each community
- Hire an Inuk intervener in each community to help in a crisis
- Hire at least one officer per community who has at least five years of policing experience
- Ensure officers have functioning communications equipment
- Equip police officers with Tasers
To the latter point, the KRPF now has a sergeant prepared to train up to 60 officers to use Tasers, with plans to distribute the stun guns to each of the 14 detachments across the region.
Tasers could help de-escalate high-risk altercations, the report said, while also preventing the risk of stray bullets causing harm.
The KRPF said it’s also in talks with Nunavik communities about hiring a local Inuk interpreter to work with officers when there’s a crisis.
Currently, just four of the KRPF’s 90 officers are Inuit. The force says it continues to recruit new officers in the North and south.
“Most of these recommendations were already implemented by the KRPF when the report was received, and others are ongoing as the KRPF agree with them,” KRPF Chief Jean-Pierre Larose told Kativik Regional Government council meetings last week.