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Vancouver seeing spike in serious and fatal police-involved incidents, watchdog says

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As a provincial watchdog probes a police-involved death in Vancouver, the Independent Investigations Office says the incident in the Downtown Eastside is one of an unprecedented number of serious and fatal incidents in British Columbia this year.

Province-wide, the overall number of reports the IIO is called in to investigate has increased significantly, according to chief civilian director Officer Ronald McDonald. And Vancouver is not bucking the trend. 

"It's fair to say Vancouver and the province in general have seen an increase in significant types of files for the IIO to deal with -- no doubt about that," he told CTV News. "Our office is stretched very thin right now, because of the significant number of serious files that we're dealing with.

The office has been called to the Vancouver 38 times in 2022, according to online data. News releases were sent out in 17 cases.

In 2021, there were 48 reports out of Vancouver for the entire year. News releases were issued in 23 of these.

McDonald says the decision about which incidents to inform the media and broader public about involves a number of factors, but generally speaking, statements are sent out and public reports are written in cases where the harm is significant, the investigation is complex, and the public interest is engaged.

McDonald notes that the IIO reports on data by fiscal year – starting on April 1.

A spike in officer-involved shootings is one of the things he says really stands out this year. Generally, McDonald says the office is called to investigate an average of seven shootings each fiscal year. Since April 1 of 2022 there have been 16 – five of them in Vancouver.

"We've seen a tremendous increase. Now, that's across the province, but we have seen several cases in Vancouver as well," he told CTV News.

This spike, McDonald notes, comes at a time when his staff is already overloaded. Investigations into the vast majority of incidents have not been completed. That makes it impossible for him to definitively identify or explain any trends.

"We haven't been able to determine who was at fault for what, whether or not the actions are justified, but in a broader sense -- what's led to the situation developing," he said.

However, McDonald does say that the presence of a gun or another "significant weapon" is something he has noted in a "very unusual number of cases."

Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison said weapons are a factor in the city's cases.

"The proliferation of guns and other deadly weapons in the hands of people intent on killing or causing grievous bodily harm to others has resulted in an unusual number of police-involved shootings this year," he wrote in an email to CTV News.

"In each case, our officers have acted bravely to protect the public and prevent innocent people from being killed or seriously hurt."

The IIO has not made a determination or issued a report on any of the Vancouver shootings.

VANCOUVER SHOOTINGS

Despite initial reports, Monday's fatal incident was not a shooting. The VPD told reporters that a beanbag gun was used on a man who was "acting erratically" near East Hastings Street and Dunlevy Avenue around 8 a.m. According to the department, the man was taken into custody following an "interaction." He lost consciousness and died at the scene despite attempts to revive him, the VPD and IIO both said. The man was not armed. During an interaction with police, the man went into medical distress and lost consciousness. Police and Emergency Health Services attempted to resuscitate the man, but he died at the scene.

On Aug. 6, the VPD was called to a rooming house on Granville Street downtown and shot a man who lived there. The IIO's statement said the man had a weapon and had reportedly injured at least one person. The VPD said, in its statement, that the man had set his room on fire, was wielding a machete and had injured four people. No information was provided about the extent of the man's gunshot injuries but the shooting was not fatal.

A week prior, police were driving on the Downtown Eastside near Hastings and Columbia streets and "observed a man waving a weapon," according to the IIO. "An interaction occurred, and shots were fired by police," the statement said. The VPD, in that case, said the man used the weapon to assault and seriously injure an officer and that an attempt to subdue the man with a Taser was not successful. The department would not, despite being asked several times, say what kind of weapon the man allegedly used to assault the officer. No information was provided about the man's condition but the shooting was not fatal.

On July 16, officers were called to reports of a break-in in progress near Gore Avenue and Railway Street, the IIO said in its statement. Police attempted to stop a vehicle soon after, but the person driving did not pull over. "An interaction occurred ... and shots were fired" near Commercial Drive and East 2nd Avenue. The IIO's statement says the man reportedly had a weapon and the VPD said the weapon was a gun. The shooting was not fatal.

On May 5, police were called to the Patricia Hotel, an SRO on East Hastings Street. The IIO said the man reportedly had a weapon but did not specify what kind. The VPD said it was called about reports of assault with a weapon and "confronted by a man" when officers arrived. The department also did not say what kind of weapon was allegedly used. The shooting was fatal; the man died at the scene.

On April 27, police were called to a building near Commercial Drive and East 5th Avenue for a "complaint" and a man was killed after an "exchange of gunfire," according to the IIO. The VPD said the initial call was about an assault.

  

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