Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Death of Mohamed Anas Bennis: More and More Questions, Still No Answers

Sorry i didn’t post this earlier – i’m no longer in the habit of reading the Mirror. This article by Montreal activist/journalist Stefan Christoff is a welcome mention of Mohamed Anas Bennis in the local media.

Montreal Mirror: Why did Mohamed-Anas Bennis die?
by Stefan Christoff
One year after Montreal police killed the 25-year-old, his family and community are still in the dark
One year ago, Montrealer Mohamed-Anas Bennis, 25, was shot dead by a police officer in Côte-des-Neiges. Circumstances leading to the death remain unclear, while the official police report on the killing, now in the hands of Quebec's Ministry of Public Security, has not been released to date.

According to Pierre Paquet, the lawyer representing the Bennis family, a Montreal policeman fired on Bennis shortly after dawn prayer at the Kent street mosque in NDG at approximately 7 a.m. on Dec. 1. Prior to the shooting, Montreal police had been called in to back up Sûreté du Québec investigators executing a warrant in a fraud case. Bennis was not the subject of the fraud investigation, but apparently stabbed a police officer for an unknown reason, provoking the police shooting.

According to the Montreal police, the shooting was an act of "self-defence". Sameer Zuberi of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), however, views the case as "an illustration of the potential danger that Canadian security and police officials can pose to the Muslim community." The umbrella organization Muslim Council of Montreal is also supporting the family.

"Mohamed was very focused on his personal faith and was someone who people had nothing but good things to say about," says Zuberi. "Now people in the community are standing up and supporting his family due to the tragedy they have experienced."

"Why is this case so secret?" asks Bennis family lawyer Paquet. "I found it alarming that the police officially declared they acted in self-defence against Mohamed-Anas on the very same day of the incident, without any substantial investigation."

While Quebec City police have been assigned to investigate the shooting, Paquet's legal appeals to provincial authorities to release the original police report have failed.
Quebec's Ministry of Public Security refused to disclose the original police report on the  shooting, also deciding last Nov. 4 not to press criminal charges against the police officers involved in the incident.

"Essentially I am looking for what happened on that day," says Paquet. "The problem is that the decision from the Ministry of Public Security can't be appealed, and now the Bennis case is, on the legal side, technically over."

Calls to both the Quebec City police and the Ministry of Public Security for comment on  the case were not returned by press time. But Bennis's father, Mohamed, contacted in Morocco last week, says he only wants to know how and why his son died. "We don't want to keep these things hidden," he says. "We want the truth to be revealed concerning what happened last year."

To mark the anniversary of the police shooting, community and activist groups are coordinating neighbourhood activities in Côte-des-Neiges to build public awareness concerning the case.

"We are organizing a vigil [on Saturday, Dec. 2] at the same place the shooting occurred," says Rachid Najahi, president of Atlas.Mtl, a community newspaper. For more info on the time and place, see

Local activist group the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality [COPB] has also taken up the case. "The cops that killed an innocent person could still be walking the streets without being brought to justice," says COPB's Kerre King. The COPB rally takes place on Friday, Dec. 1 from 5.7 p.m. at the corner of Kent and Côte-des-Neiges.


i did not make it to last Friday’s vigil, having unavoidable personal responsibilities elsewhere. It was freezing rain, about the most inhospitable kind of weather you can get here this time of year, but a couple of dozen people did turn out nevertheless. Mohamed Anas’ father spoke, as did local activists from COBP and Solidarity Across Borders, as well as a comrade from Mexico’s Other Campaign who spoke of repression in that country.

i did manage to get to Saturday’s noontime vigil. There were about fifty people, many from the Muslim community but also some from the anti-authoritarian activist scene. If nothing else i found it... very very sad, being there where the cops had killed this guy a year ago, seeing his father and sister and knowing how this must now be killing them.

Off he goes to mosque, and he never comes back... shot through the heart by police who then put on some cockamamie story about how Anas “just went crazy.” The fact that he was Muslim, and they were on a testosterone-charged raid on a criminal enterprise “with links to terrorism”... this just had nothing to do with it...

As has been amply documented, the State has decided to cover up what happened that morning. I’m not saying the cops shot Anas because they are racist, because they thought he was a terrorist, because of mistaken identity because they were involved in some kind of conspiracy, or anything else for that matter... how can i given that there aren’t enough details known to even explain the most basic elements of what happened?

i mean space aliens could have come down, engineered the whole thing, the flown off the Cloud Cuckoo Land and we wouldn’t have a clue, because everything about that morning has been kept under wraps, nothing plausible has been made public.

One thing i do know for sure, though, is that the cops’ story is inadequate, to the point that you’d have to be crazy not to assume it was a lie. According to the Coroner’s Report, “The two officers [Bernier and Roy of Station 25] were walking on the sidewalk towards the building when Mr Bennis headed southwest in their direction; when he reached the police he stabbed one of the officers in his neck and in his right leg for no known reason.”

Now i was at the spot where this happened, and for the first time had someone point out where the mosque Anas had been praying at was. It completely changes the nature of the cops’ story, because the mosque itself is on the corner of Kent and Cote-des-Neiges, on the southwest corner. If Anas Bennis was walking southwest to intercept the police, then he was walking back towards the mosque, not away from it. This, combined with the fact that he was killed fifty minutes after morning prayers ended, raises serious questions about what else the police are leaving out. What else went on between Anas Bennis and officers Bernier and Roy during those fifty minutes?

It feels obscene to wonder what happened to lead to someone’s death. Especially when you’re doing the wondering in public (i.e. on a blog) and you know the family of the deceased have themselves been denied any answers.

How offensive it is to guess at what led to this young man’s death. How horrible it is to know that his sisters and brothers and parents must be wondering this too, running scenarios through their heads, trying to come to terms with a wall of State secrecy.

The evil genius of the cops in this case is that by suppressing all information they have left us with no idea what questions we should be asking. The pathetic evil of this moment in history is that so few even care to wonder what this means, never mind how to stop it.

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