Police in Nanaimo have been cleared of wrongdoing in an incident in which a woman in a mental health crisis suffered injuries to her face while being detained.
The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. was called to investigate following the incident May 26, 2020, when a woman suffered injuries to her nose and mouth. Though the IIO found that the RCMP used a reasonable level of force, the complainant Shanna-Marie Blanchard questions the investigation’s process and findings and says she will continue to move forward with a lawsuit against police.
According to an IIO summary of its investigation, RCMP officers responded to a residence where a woman in crisis had locked herself in a bathroom with scissors.
The woman eventually emerged from the bathroom and was informed that she was to be apprehended under the Mental Health Act at which point she “became resistant and a struggle ensued,” the report noted. “In the course of that struggle and a fall that occurred as officers were attempting to walk [her] downstairs … [she] suffered injuries to her face.”
The IIO report details the actions of the officers – which included a strike to the woman’s face delivered by one of the members and the use of a spit hood to prevent her from spitting blood on officers – and the woman’s injuries. It also cites evidence from verbal and written statements by the complainant, three officers, civilian witnesses, a paramedic, police dispatch records, recording of the 911 call and police radio communication, security camera video recording, medical, dental and counselling evidence and the woman’s statement of claim in a lawsuit filed against police.
Ronald MacDonald, IIO B.C. chief civilian director, wrote in the investigation’s findings that the officers involved “made observations and received information consistent with [the woman] being a person apparently suffering from a mental disorder and in danger of harming herself” and were justified in their decision to apprehend her and take her to hospital for evaluation.
Regarding the blow to the woman’s face, MacDonald wrote that she reacted to being taken to hospital in a “threatening and resistant manner,” that the officers used necessary and reasonable force to restrain her and in response to her “deliberate strikes against them” the officer used “necessary, reasonable force to stop them.”
“It is unfortunate that [the woman] suffered injuries in the course of the incident, but the evidence does not lead me to conclude that those injuries were the result of an unnecessary or excessive use of force.”
MacDonald noted that the use of a spit hood appeared to be contrary to police policy, but officers were dealing with someone emotionally and physically aggressive who had spat blood on one officer and the hood did not impact her ability to breath and communicate.
He concluded that he didn’t consider there to be reasonable grounds to believe “that an officer may have committed an offence under any enactment.” The IIO will not refer the case to Crown counsel for consideration of charges.
Blanchard provided the News Bulletin with a statement from her legal counsel Ira Tee, which expresses disagreement with the IIO’s conclusion. Blanchard “questions the accuracy of the police officers’ evidence and the fairness of the IIO’s investigation” considering that RCMP members were not compelled to provide statements.
“It is incomprehensible that five officers could not safely control Ms. Blanchard and caused her substantial injuries, including the loss of teeth, a broken nose, broken facial bones, bruising and psychological trauma,” the statement notes, adding that Blanchard has spent almost $10,000 in dental fees.
“Even though the IIO finds no wrongdoing on behalf of the police officers, Ms. Blanchard will continue to pursue her legal rights and remedies in the civil courts,” the statement concludes.