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Manitoba police watchdog's probe of international student's death transferred to Alberta

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Manitoba's police watchdog has transferred its investigation into the death of an international student fatally shot by Winnipeg police out-of-province.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU) said Wednesday it has handed its investigation into the police shooting of 19-year-old Afolabi Stephen Opaso over to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

The IIU was called in to investigate after Opaso, an international student from Nigeria studying at the University of Manitoba, was fatally shot by Winnipeg police on Dec. 31, 2023.

The IIU's civilian director Roxanne Gagné said the transfer of the investigation is to avoid the potential of a perceived conflict of interest.

"Early in the investigation, the IIU became aware that an officer involved in the shooting is a close relative of an employee of Manitoba Justice, the same department in which the IIU is located organizationally," the IIU said in a release.

The IIU said, while it is not concerned about the professionalism and integrity of the work done by its investigators, it decided the transfer is important to preserve the integrity of the investigation.

Police were called to an apartment suite in the first 100 block of University Crescent on Dec. 31 for reports of a man acting erratically. Police said two officers were confronted by Opaso who was armed with two knives, and one of the officers shot him.

He later died of his injuries.

Jean-René-Dominique Kwilu, a Winnipeg lawyer helping Opaso's family, previously told CTV News the man was having a mental health episode but said there is no indication he attacked police.

A statement from Opaso's parents released earlier this week said the use of lethal force in response to a mental health crisis is not only disproportionate, but constitutes a grave injustice.

"Mental health challenges should be met with empathy, understanding, and appropriate response, yet the events that unfolded demonstrate a failure in the system designed to protect and serve,” the statement read.

The family has called for a thorough and transparent investigation into the shooting. 

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