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Family of man who died in police custody travels to Vancouver for answers

Christopher Amyotte was a man fiercely loved by his family — that’s the message his loved ones want the public to know.

Amyotte, an Indigenous man from Winnipeg, travelled to Vancouver to visit his daughter who was scheduled to start school in September, according to his family.

On Aug. 22, witnesses reported seeing a man in distress after a bear spray attack and he was seen taking off his clothes and pouring himself with milk.

They told CTV News they were trying to tell officers he needed help and instead, they heard six shots fired.

“My family right now, is struggling to understand the reason why Chris' life had to end that day and the way it did,” said Samantha Wilson, a cousin and the family spokesperson, at a press conference Thursday.

The Vancouver Police Department later confirmed a bean bag gun was discharged but would not say how many shots were fired. It said the bean bag gun is meant to be an intermediate weapon designed to be less lethal.

But his family is outraged as Amyotte later died in police custody.

The VPD said he went into medical distress and could not be revived.

“I believe that, given the location of this incident in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, that my cousin, Chris, 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,” said Wilson.

“Unfortunately, for the Vancouver Police Department, Christopher has a family that loves him very much and we are exploring every possible avenue to seek answers for him and his children.”

Amyotte is a father to seven children and had just turned 42 years old days before his death.

Finger pointing comment leads to backlash

Kim Beaudin, the national vice chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said the case is disturbing but not surprising.

He believes the outcome would’ve been different if Amyotte were white.

“There’s so many factors when police deal with Indigenous people: the racism, it’s never ending,” Beaudin said.

Beaudin is not the only Indigenous advocate to take police to task.

The Union of B.C Indian Chiefs is calling for a public inquest and is demanding immediate police reform within the Vancouver Police Department.

In response, Tom Stamatakis, the president of the Canadian Police Association tweeted: “UBCIC should focus on solutions not just repeatedly pointing finger at everyone but own organization. What proactive steps have they taken to support their community with services & opportunities to avoid interactions with police & crim justice system?”

The backlash was swift; many calling the comment racist.

Stamatakis told CTV News his comment was being misunderstood.

“My point is let's focus on how we can respond collectively to prevent these crises from occurring in the first place. And I think that that's the approach that we should all be striving for, not one where it's about blaming one group or another and suggesting that the police are somehow responsible for you know, what's a broader societal challenge,” he said.

He said police should not be solely blamed for systemic issues such as racism, mental health, homelessness poverty and substance abuse.

“They do stick up for their own. There is a blue wall, right? And that blue wall is very solid. Very little accountability in terms of the public,” said Beaudin. “He should delete that tweet and resign.”

Calls for inquest, policy changes

Amyotte’s family is calling for a public inquiry.

They would also like to see the VPD make some policy changes to how officers treat Indigenous people living in the Downtown Eastside and address systemic bias against Indigenous people.

“Anger is an emotion that quickly came and left just like Chris,” said Wilson.

The VPD did not respond to request for comment on the calls to action.

Stamatakis said many are blaming officers for Amyotte’s death and drawing to conclusions when the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. hasn’t finished its investigation.

“Once the investigation is complete, then we can draw conclusions from those findings and make decisions about what did happen and what needs to happen in the future to prevent those kinds of incidents from happening. Again, what's happening now is just people speculating or saying whatever they want. It's being recorded as though it's factual,” he said.

In regards to an inquiry, the ministry of the solicitor general and public safety the IIO is mandated to investigate all police-related incidents and it is unable to comment whether there will be a public inquest. Top Stories

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