The sister of an Abbotsford homeless advocate killed by RCMP officers last year is expressing frustration with the B.C. police watchdog’s report and the stalling of two further investigations into his death.
Barry Shantz was shot on the front porch of his Lytton home during a mental-health crisis after a six-hour standoff with heavily armed RCMP officers on Jan. 13, 2020.
“My experience with the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) has not been a good one,” said Marilyn Farquhar, Shantz’s sister.
“Right in their name, (it says) independent. I have always felt, in my experience, there was no independence. It was heavily biased.”
Farquhar stood in Abbotsford’s Jubilee Park on Saturday (June 5), the same site where her brother mounted confrontational sit-in protests against bylaws targeting the city’s homeless.
She displayed grief quilts she has made in memory of Shantz, and provided updates on the pending probes into his death.
The IIO report cleared officers of any wrongdoing on Oct. 19.
While Farquhar doesn’t take exception to the officers’ individual actions, she does take exception to policies and procedures leading to lethal force.
The day he died, Shantz’s girlfriend left the home with her daughter and called 911 to report he might be suicidal and had a gun.
Shantz reportedly told officers during the standoff that he wanted to be shot six times.
Farquhar said the IIO has refused to correct “inflamed language” in their report, which she says is wording that wouldn’t be needed if the shooting was justified.
For instance, while Shantz did fire his weapon, his sister said it was towards the roof, and she has seen the bullet hole.
“We kept asking them to change the report to say he shot up in the air … They’ve refused.”
It was obvious that it was a mental-health crisis, so where were the mental-health professions? Farquhar asks.
“Thirty armed officers, two snipers, a helicopter and canine unit … (They) used that helicopter to bring in officers,” she said.
“Why couldn’t you use that helicopter to bring in a mental-health professional? … They had six hours.”
She said the official response to that question is that mental-health professionals didn’t pick up the phone.
“Unfortunately, in the time available, that didn’t pan out,” said Ron MacDonald, IIO’s chief civilian director in a news conference after the report was released.
Two further investigations, a coroner’s inquest and her complaint filed with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) cannot proceed until documents are released from the IIO, Farquhar said.
She said the IIO informed her these documents need to be vetted and redacted – with the assistance of the RCMP – before they can be released to BC Coroners Service.
“The coroner’s office has advised me that there should be no redaction to the documents, as no exceptions are applicable,” Farquhar said.
“I was also advised by the coroner’s office, they have never received a response of this nature, before or since my brother’s case.”
She said she doesn’t understand why the RCMP is participating at all.
Her file with the CRCC, which claims non-lethal options were not exhausted before the shooting, is on hold until the coroner’s inquest is complete.
“I see time ticking away and progress isn’t being made,” she said. “It’s been a year and five months since Barry’s passing. It’s been seven months since the IIO investigation has been completed.”
Shantz was a well-known advocate for Abbotsford’s homeless community and a founding member of the B.C. Association of Drug War Survivors.
His sometimes-polarizing style of activism spearheaded the change to city bylaws restricting overnight camping in public parks and council’s refusal to allow harm reduction services in the community.
Shantz and the B.C. Association of Drug War Survivors were the lead plaintiffs in a successful case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
The case set precedent, and is frequently cited in legal arguments related to human rights.
In the last week, Farquhar said she has been contacted by B.C.’s Attorney General David Eby and Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun.
Both praised Shantz for his efforts to reverse local attitudes towards people who are homeless.
“At the time, I don’t think I realized the magnitude of what he was doing,” she said.
Making the quilts has been a therapeutic, but difficult, process and she plans to tour around the country to display them.
“An hour of working on these and I’m an emotional mess. I can’t do it anymore. I have to come back, and face it again,” Farquhar said.
“There’s something about quilts – just being able to touch it … It lasts, whereas if it was just words that you say, they can pass and you forget them.”