FREDERICTON — The lawyer for the family of an Indigenous woman fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B., during a wellness check two years ago said a coroner's inquest opening Monday offers a chance for her loved ones to get long-awaited answers.
Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old member of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia who had recently moved to New Brunswick to be closer to family, was killed on June 4, 2020.
Lawyer T.J. Burke says the Edmundston police department lacked the tools needed to de-escalate situations without using deadly force.
"In my opinion, the City of Edmundston suffers for the lack of technology," he said in an interview last week. The city, he said, had "focused more on purchasing carbine weapons than they did on individual officers' use-of-force weapons, such as Tasers."
Investigators with Quebec's police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, concluded last year that the shooting occurred after an intoxicated Moore approached the officer with a knife in her hand.
Patrick Wilbur, regional director of New Brunswick's Public Prosecutions Services, said in a report released last June that a former boyfriend of Moore called police at 2:06 a.m. to request the wellness check as a result of his concerns over a series of messages he had received over a period of a few hours.
The former boyfriend, who lives in Quebec, told investigators that at one point it appeared as if the messages were being written by a third party, and he contacted police out of concern for Moore's safety.
According to Wilbur's review of the investigation report, police arrived at Moore's apartment at 2:32 a.m. and the officer knocked on a window and shone a flashlight on himself to show he was in full police uniform. The review says Moore came out of the apartment and moved in the direction of the officer holding a knife.
Prosecutors concluded the officer shot at Moore to defend or protect himself and that his actions were reasonable under the circumstances. They ruled out any criminal charges.
However, during the investigation, the officer said he regretted not giving himself an exit from the confrontation on the balcony outside Moore's third-floor apartment. Wilbur wrote in his report that officers should always avoid cornering themselves in when responding to a call.
Wilbur said that while the officer had other deterrent measures, such as pepper spray and a baton, the events unfolded quickly.
Burke said he believes police also need to look at other approaches during wellness checks, such as the use of social workers or a mental health worker to help resolve tense situations.
Last June, Burke said Moore's family intended to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against the City of Edmundston and the officer who shot her. He says that lawsuit has now been finalized and will be filed very soon.
A coroner's jury will be chosen Monday morning, and five days have been set aside for the inquest.
Coroner Michael Johnston and the jury will hear evidence from witnesses to determine the facts surrounding the death. The jury will then have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances in the future.
While Burke will attend the inquest, he won't have the opportunity to directly question or cross-examine the witnesses. A lawyer for the family can submit questions, but New Brunswick's legislation only allows for questions to be asked by a Crown prosecutor during a coroner's inquest.
"The legislation is archaic and it needs to change," Burke said. "It essentially silences the victim in these types of matters."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2022.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press