Saturday, July 28, 2007

Montreal Gazette Calls for Public Inquiry into the Police Killing of Mohamed Anas Bennis

You could say that i'm surprised.

Pleasantly surprised, but surprised nevertheless that Montreal's english daily paper, the Gazette, has called for a public inquiry into the police killing of Mohamed Anas Bennis.

This is certainly a victory for the Bennis family and their supporters, who have met with nothing but contempt and closed doors from the Quebec provincial government so far.

There is also a subsequent article in yesterday's Gazette in which the police complain that it is really they who are suffering due to the Minister of Public Security's policy of not releasing details about police killings. They imply that if they got to tell "their side" of the story people would realize that they were not to blame.

i sincerely doubt that, but it does highlight the fact that even under conditions of State secrecy, it is possible to break through the media whiteout, and in doing so put the police on the defensive. Especially in a case like this one - where the police kill someone not even related to the crime they are investigating, where the autopsy shows bullets going down through the victim's body, where the weapon the victim was allegedly wielding has never been produced, and where a security video recording of the incident was suppressed.

There is a funny phrasing to the police's complaint: "it would be to our advantage to be able to (make public) our version of events, but because of concerns about transparency and fairness, the law says we can't say what happened."

Get that: out of concern for "transparency" the police "can't say what happened". Clearly what they are talking about is not "transparency" as it is normally understood, i.e. making all details of a case clear (i.e. transparent) to the public. Rather, like a kid caught doing something they're not supposed to, caught in a situation where they have no real excuse for what they have done, the police are now hiding behind the fact that they're not allowed to say what happened.

As if that stopped them from accusing Anas of being mentally unstable, as if that stopped them from claiming he attacked a cop with a knife, as if it stopped them from leaking all manner of falsehoods to the media... but now that attention has finally been brought to the inconsistencies and impossibilities in the police version of events, mum's the word and they simply bemoan the fact that they're "not allowed" to explain what went wrong early in the morning that tragic December 1st...

Here is the editorial and article from yesterday's Gazette:

We deserve to know why police shot Bennis
The Gazette, Editorial
Friday, July 27, 2007
It is instructive to read in sequence the Gazette headlines about the death of Mohamed Anas Bennis:

Dec. 3, 2005: "Knife attack on constable remains a mystery: Police officer recovering from wounds. Quebec City investigators question relatives of man shot to death."

Dec. 10, 2005: "Burial clouded by questions ... Attempts to speak with officer involved in shooting rebuffed: family."

Dec. 12, 2006: "Islamic relations council seeks inquiry into death."

Jan. 8, 2006: "Protesters push for probe into police shooting."

Jan 10, 2006: "Details of shooting by cops to be held till after probe: 'No interest in hiding anything.' Community demands Quebec set up inquiry into death of devout Muslim man."

Nov. 7, 2006: "Police officer cleared after bizarre shooting: Investigation cloaked in secrecy."

Nov. 8, 2006: "Dead man's family still in the dark."

April 12, 2007: "Family demands answers in 2005 slaying."

Now it's July, and the victim's sister and other relatives are still asking in vain for answers. As Khadija Bennis explained in a powerful appeal for public support on our Opinion page yesterday, police and the Quebec Public security department have silently stonewalled the family's requests for an end to secrecy. Our columnist Henry Aubin endorsed that request yesterday, and today we add our voice to the chorus.

A citizen was shot and killed by police on no obvious provocation; what little evidence we do have is a poor match for what little the police have said. Justice must be done, and must be seen to be done. This secrecy should be seen as offensive and alarming not only by those who knew Mohamed Anas Bennis, but to everyone in Quebec society.

If the police continue to stonewall, then it will be up to their bosses, Mayor Gérald Tremblay and executive committee member Claude Dauphin, who is responsible for public security, to reassure us all. Can police really kill without public accountability? Surely not. And if city hall thinks Montrealers don't care about that question, then the Quebec government needs to get involved.

What's needed is a proper public inquiry. We can imagine numerous scenarios in which the shooting might have been well justified; we can also imagine many ways the shooting might have been utterly wrong. But a man is dead at the hands of the police: Why does the public have to imagine what happened? The people need to know.

From Thursday's Gazette: The appeal by Khadija Bennis, and Henry Aubin's column on the subject, are still available at

Justice for Anas website:

Police frustrated by inability to speak up about probe
Secretive system forbids them from discussing inquiry into case of man killed by cops in '05
Published: Friday, July 27

A Montreal police spokesperson expressed frustration yesterday with the province of Quebec's secretive system for investigating incidents in which civilians are killed by police officers.

"In some cases, it would be to our advantage to be able to (make public) our version of events, but because of concerns about transparency and fairness, the law says we can't say what happened," Sgt. Ian Lafreniere said in interview.

Lafreniere was reacting to a call by family members of Mohamed Anas Bennis, shot to death by a Montreal police officer in December 2005, for a public inquiry into the killing.

Bennis, 25, of Montreal, was on his way home from morning prayers at a C?te des Neiges mosque when police allege Bennis attacked officers with a kitchen knife, an accusation the family contends is absurd.

"It was completely out of character that suddenly, one morning, my brother would attack a police officer, or anyone, with a knife after his morning prayers just steps from his house," Khadija Bennis, twin sister of Anas Bennis, wrote in an opinion piece published in yesterday's Gazette.

Appeals by the family to Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis for access to a report produced by Quebec City police investigating the incident have gone unanswered, she wrote.

She referred to community concerns that "racial profiling might have played a role in the police shooting of my brother, an identifiable and practising Muslim."

Dupuis was unavailable for comment yesterday, but his aide Philippe Archambault said the minister is "very sensitive to the concerns and demands of the family in this case, but the law prevents us from commenting or giving (the family or the media) access to the report,"

When a police officer in the province is involved in an incident that results in death or severe injury, an outside police service is called in to investigate.

In the Anas Bennis case, Quebec City police investigated and found nothing to warrant charges against the Montreal officer. Since no charges were laid, no details of the incident were made public.

Ontario is the only jurisdiction in Canada where an independent civilian agency has the power to investigate and charge police officers with a criminal offence.

Created 17 years ago in response to public outcry over police shootings of unarmed black men in that province, the Special Investigations Unit probes incidents involving police in which civilians are killed or severely injured.

SIU spokesperson Rose Bliss said the agency has not satisfied all calls for transparency, as it must still work within restrictions imposed by privacy laws, considerations about protecting witnesses and preserving the integrity of the investigation.

Investigative reports are not rendered public, but the agency produces news releases that provide summaries of evidence.

"I would argue that our news releases are the most detailed of any information on police investigations made available by any law agency in our country right now," she said.

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