The family of Christopher Amyotte, an Indigenous man who died after being shot with a bean bag gun by the Vancouver Police Department, is calling for a public inquest into his death.
Amyotte was shot on the morning of Aug. 22 shortly after being bear-maced. He had taken off his clothes and run into a grocery store to pour milk on himself to relieve the pain from the bear spray.
At a news conference on Thursday (Sept. 1), Amyotte’s family also called on the Vancouver Police to make transformative changes around how officers treat Indigenous people in the Downtown Eastside, particularly when those people are in visible distress.
“The system needs to change to ensure there are mechanisms in place to de-escalate situations like this. Shooting someone with a bean bag 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.”
Amyotte was a 42-year-old father of seven and a member of Rolling River First Nation in northern Manitoba. His cousin, Samantha Wilson, remembered him as a creative, kind and loving family man.
Wilson said she has sources who contradicted what Vancouver Police told the media about the circumstances of her cousin’s death. In an emailed statement to the Canadian Press, Sgt. Steve Addison said no bystanders attempted to help Amyotte. Addison also said officers attempted to communicate verbally with Amyotte but there was “an altercation.”
She said witnesses told her Amyotte was calling for help and was being helped by those around them when Vancouver Police arrived and shot Amyotte with bean bag rounds.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve come across numerous people who told me they tried to help Chris and when help did arrive, they were telling them that Chris needed help,” Wilson said. “You’re supposed to help people, you’re supposed to protect people.”
The Vancouver Police also said that Amyotte was only shot with one round, but Wilson said her sources are contradicting that, as well.
“I’m here to seek understanding and reasoning behind the split-second decision made by this police officer to pull the trigger six times instead of one that would have immobilized Chris and he could have been administered the care he was begging for.”
The Independent Investigations Office of BC is investigating Amyotte’s death.
Black Press Media has reached out to BC Coroners Service for comment – the service determines whether an inquest into a death is to take place. Inquests do not determine criminality or fault, but can result in recommendations from a public jury.