Hudson death sparks conversation about the role of IIU in Manitoba
Eishia Hudson appears in an undated photo (Photo courtesy Christie Zebrasky)
WINNIPEG -- Thursday it was determined that the officer involved in the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Eishia Hudson would not face any charges.
The verdict has sparked a conversation about the role police and the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU) play in our province.
“There has to be a change in the numbers,” said Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg.
“We have to see a lowering of the number of instances where Indigenous people are shot in their confrontations with police.”
He said there’s a lack of trust between Black, Indigenous, People of Colour and the law enforcement.
“There’s no example or president of an institution like the IIU that's actually been successful in holding police officers accountable for instances of serious harm,” said Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land, assistant professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Winnipeg.
She said systemic racism was at play in the circumstances that lead to the death of Hudson.
“Systemic racism informs the cultural response to liquor theft that led to the context in which Hudson was pursued in a police chase for stealing a bottle of liquor.
“The fact that a 16-year-old girl who was being chased for stealing a bottle of liquor could be considered a threat to a grown man/police officer with a gun, I think that we have no choice but to understand that in the context of anti-indigenous racism in Winnipeg.”
Dobchuk-Land said because of the power police officers have to use force when deemed necessary, it’s difficult to find them guilty of intent to harm without a reasonable doubt.
The IIU tells CTV News that out of the eight investigators that work in the unit, five of them were previously involved in law enforcement. Dobchuk-Land said people are within their rights to question an organization that’s staffed mostly by former officers.
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Minister of Justice said:
“Manitoba Justice currently has an established team focused on evaluating and developing plans to implement reforms based on the recommendations in the Police Services Act review,” the statement said.
“Our government and the minister have committed to introduce legislation this year that will strengthen the Manitoba Independent Investigation Unit (IIU) and will be providing regular updates as this work progresses.”
Mayor Brian Bowman addressed the decision during a media availability on Friday offering his condolences to Hudson's family.
"There will undoubtedly be opposing views on the outcome of this review and I think it is incredibly important to remember that at the heart of this, a child's life was lost and this is a tragedy for our entire community," said Bowman.
Bowman added that he thinks there is a need for improvement to the IIU.
"It's incredibly important for our residents, all of our residents, as well as I think law enforcement agencies like the Winnipeg Police Service, that there are improvements to the trust and confidence in the IIU."
The mayor said he is looking forward to see legislation that the province promised in November 2020 that would strengthen the IIU and address gaps in the legislation.
"One of the things I will be looking to see strengthened in the legislative reform, which we understand is coming this year and I would hope that would happen sooner than later, is for increased openness and transparency in the IIU process.
"One of the ways in which we strengthen trust and confidence in the administration of justice is through the robust openness and transparency of the court process."
Bowman noted that there will always be difficulties and challenges when it comes to law enforcement reviews and he understands that.
"But anything that can move us to a place where there is increased openness and transparency to the extent that’s possible, so that affected individuals (and) families can be better part of seeing those reviews happen to a greater extent, I think would help."
Dobchuk-Land said we need to divest from the idea that bringing criminal charges against police officers is the path to accountability, she believes the solution is to limit police interactions with people in crisis instead of punishing officers in effort to hold them accountable.
Johnston believes there needs to be more Indigenous representation in the IIU.
“You could ask the question, ‘Is the current model of the Independent Investigation Unit the best type of model for Manitoba?'.”