Since she began crusading for a public inquiry into the death of her mother, Gladys Tolley, who died after being struck by a Sûreté du Québec vehicle while walking home through her home community of Kitigan Zibi in 2001, Bridget Tolley has gone to just about every legal means to find justice.
It has been Tolley’s belief that since the get-go the investigation into her mother’s death has been spectacularly flawed because she was able to find documentation proving that proper investigative protocols were not followed, written statements were full of inconsistencies, and jurisdictional police agreements were ignored. The investigating officer on the crime scene was also the brother of the officer who was driving the SQ cruiser. Since that time Tolley has been seeking a public inquiry into her mother’s death but has not yet succeeded in persuading the province to do so.
It was actually because of Gladys Tolley’s death that the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit Initiative began holding vigils for the last five years to raise awareness and honour the lives of the 582 documented missing and/or murdered women in Canada every October 4. The vigil movement has since spread like wildfire across the nation with hundreds of thousands of people participating annually.
Tolley has now teamed up with a new organization that is comprised of families who all have one thing in common – they have lost someone dear to them at the hands of what they are calling needless police violence.
Calling itself Justice for the Victims of Police Killings, the group held a press conference on October 21. Representatives of the families of Gladys Tolley, Anas Bennis, Fredy Villanueva, Quilem Registre, Claudio Castagnetta and Ben Matson presented their loved ones’ stories and offered their suggestions to ensure that families get the justice and closure they need. Their purpose was also to promote a vigil that was held on October 22 in front of the Montreal Police Brotherhood and, on the following day, a march that ran through the streets of Montreal and ended in front of Premier Jean Charest’s office.
In its list of demands, the group has called for an end of police brutality and impunity, an end to racial, social and political profiling, access to all information in a prompt manner, that criminal charges be laid in police killings, that public independent inquiries be held into police killings, that coroner recommendations be applied and for an end to Taser use.
“The coroner made recommendations during the inquiry into my father’s death but knowing that the police will never use those recommendations makes the inquiry a waste of time,” said Julie Matson, whose father was killed by police in Vancouver in 2002. Ben Matson, 49, died while in handcuffs after a violent struggle with police officers. According to the coroner, Matson choked on his own vomit because of the position he was left in by the police.
According to Tolley, who has now been with the Justice group for almost a year, she is finding a new comfort amongst this particular group as every member shares a similar experience. Tolley is hoping that together they can bring about change in Quebec, particularly when it comes to police investingating police as in her case she felt that they were simply covering up each other’s incompetence.
“We need an independent body that is not made up of the police that are the ones looking into these matters. Everything went wrong with my mother’s investigation and there were three police forces involved,” said Tolley.
The day of the vigil, about 100 people gathered together in frigid temperatures to honour the memories of those that died in the custody of police.
“Since 1987, 63 people have been killed in Montreal by the police and 300 people have been seriously wounded by the police since 1989. Out of these cases only two officers were ever charged and they were both acquitted,” bellowed one of the event organizers through a microphone.
While family members told their stories of how they lost their loved ones and called for a policy change when it comes to policing, other participants stood holding photographs of those in whose name they are calling for justice. Next to Tolley stood a shivering Lillian Villanueva, who had tears streaking down her face as she clung to a photograph of her son Fredy. In 2008, a Montreal police officer shot Villanueva’s son as he played dice in a north-end parking lot – he was only 18.
“This is one of the reasons why we are here, we want to try and change Quebec, especially when it comes to the police,” said Tolley.
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