Update: On February 11, 2021, the SIU confirmed in a press release that it was a police officer's shot that had killed the one-year-old boy.
On the morning of November 26, a 33-year-old man allegedly abducted his one-year-old child from a home near Bobcaygeon and sped off in a pick-up truck, according to police and media reports. About 30 kilometres away, the man crashed into two vehicles, as well as an OPP officer. Three officers fired at the suspect, striking him. He died a week later. During the encounter, someone fired a gunshot that hit the child, who died at the scene.
To date, law enforcement has not provided more detail about what unfolded at the scene — and why. A press release from Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit notes that a handgun was recovered in the suspect’s truck, but does not indicate whether the suspect fired, or even held, the weapon.
The SIU investigates when police officers in Ontario are said to have seriously injured, killed, shot at, or sexually assaulted a person. Its director decides whether criminal charges are warranted.
A case such as this one, where it’s still unclear if an officer fired the bullet that struck the child, is seemingly without precedent in Ontario. Four lawyers, two of which are former directors of the SIU, tell TVO.org that they’re unaware of a similar case.
Are you appreciating this article?
Donate today to support TVO's quality journalism. As a registered charity, TVO depends on people like you to support original, in-depth reporting that matters.
Ian Scott, the SIU director from 2008 to 2013, says, “What makes this so unusual is this terrible tragedy of the young child and the fact that it's unclear on the face of it whether or not the police officer was responsible for the discharge.”
“And yes, in my experience, [it’s] unheard of,” he says.
Here is a timeline of what we know so far.
Day 1: November 26
Between 8:30 and 9 a.m., a woman, her toddler, and her mother-in-law ran to a neighbour’s house, saying the suspect had left with the one-year-old, according to CBC News and Global News. The OPP “was made aware that a father had abducted his son” around 8:45 a.m., according to the first press release from the SIU.
Shortly after, OPP officers located the pick-up truck and attempted to stop it. The suspect turned onto Pigeon Lake Rd., where he crashed into an OPP cruiser, a civilian vehicle, and an OPP officer who was laying spike strips. Officers shot the suspect, and he was arrested and transported to a Toronto-area hospital. The injured OPP officer was also transported to Toronto. The infant was pronounced dead at the scene.
SIU investigators arrived around 12:35 p.m., according to Global News.
Day 2: November 27
In a second press release, the SIU said that thirteen witness officers were identified, and two civilian witnesses were interviewed. Investigators collected the discharged firearms of three officers and the SIU noted that a handgun “was located” inside the suspect’s truck.
Royland Moriah, a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto, says that if the suspect had brandished the handgun or shot it, the SIU would likely have already stated so. “If I was the SIU or the police, and there was some indication that the person had brandished it in a threatening way, it would make sense that they would refer to it that way,” he says. “The fact that they didn’t, suggests that it wasn’t.” He points out that his observations are speculation based on press releases. The SIU did not respond to a request for comment about this.
Day 7: December 2
The suspect died in hospital.
Day 8: December 3
By December 3, ten of the 13 witness officers have been interviewed. The SIU’s third press release notes that “the remaining three will be interviewed in the coming days.” The SIU is in possession of the officers’ firearms but has yet to send them to the Centre of Forensic Sciences for ballistics analysis. The handgun found in the truck is already with the CFS.
Scott explains that ballistics analysis would typically try to match a fired bullet to a specific firearm, as tiny markings on a bullet are unique to the barrel of the gun it was fired from. “In this case, it shouldn’t be that difficult because the officers' guns would have been seized, and as I understand, there was a gun in the vehicle, and so unlike just finding a gun on the street in your average investigation, you're narrowing it down to a small number of firearms,” he says.
Day 9: December 4
Monica Hudon, a SIU spokesperson, told TVO.org that the officers’ handguns will be sent to the CFS “once all evidence related to the firearms (including cartridge cases and projectiles) has been gathered.” Asked when that would be, Hudon replied: “It will be a lengthy process to properly gather all of the evidence and document it. I wouldn’t be able to give you a timeline.”
Day 15: December 10
Fifteen days after the shooting, the officers’ firearms were not yet with the CFS: “SIU investigators are currently in the process of preparing the police-issued firearms for CFS examination,” Hudon told the Toronto Star.
Howard Morton, the director of the SIU from 1992-1995, says there's likely a specific reason for the delay. “I'm assuming for them to be able to send the father’s firearm and not send the officers’ firearms, there must be some good reason for it," he says. "If there's not a good reason for it, then they should have been sent sooner than two weeks.”
Day 16: December 11
By December 11, 14 witness officers and five civilian witnesses had been interviewed, Global News reports. The three subject officers had not.
Witness officers are compelled under Ontario law to give interviews, which Morton says is meant to be done as soon as “reasonably possible.” Subject officers, however, are not required to give an interview to the SIU or provide the unit with their notes.
“Think about, you’re an investigator for a moment — how do you go about investigating how this happened, if you don't have the evidence or an interview of any of the three officers?” Morton says.
“In my view, because of who a police officer is — a public servant carrying a gun — any subject officer should be required to give an interview to the SIU after speaking to their own counsel," he adds.
Day 19: December 14
In its fourth press release, the SIU specified that of the three police firearms recovered, two were rifles and one was a handgun. “The police-issued firearms will be submitted to the CFS in line with their procedures once the SIU is granted approval to do so from the CFS,” the release stated.
While the SIU did not respond to a specific question from TVO.org as to whether the unit will issue a release when it becomes aware who shot the infant, Monday’s release noted that the unit will provide information related to the examinations to the extent it can without undermining the investigation.
What might come next?
In 2019, the average length of a “full-blown” SIU investigation was just over six months, according to the unit’s most recent annual report. (As of this month, the unit must now account for delays after four months.)
Barry Swadron, a Toronto-based lawyer who has represented clients in cases involving police, says that the unit should inform the public as soon as they know. “This should be solved in a week or two, I think, not six months,” Swadron says, referring to the source of the fatal shot. “The question or issue that might take weeks or months is whether or not the officer — if it was an officer — is culpable and should be charged.”
Morton says the SIU could provide a short press release with that information when they become aware without harming the investigation, but emphasized that the SIU shouldn’t rush.
“I think they will expedite this one because they tend to expedite deaths over injuries and they know there is a real public concern over this,” Morton says. “But should they make time their priority? Absolutely not, they have to get it right.”
If you have more information regarding this case, please email Marsha McLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting eastern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of Queen’s University.
Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.