Calgary police reviewing use of force

Family keen to participate in an independent review

CALGARY — The father of a man officers shot dead in a hotel room says his family would be keen to participate in an independent review into the use of lethal force by the Calgary Police Service.

The police service, prompted by an increase in shootings by officers, launched the review Wednesday. There were 14 such incidents over the past two years, six which were fatal.

“I am compelled to ensure our members have the correct leadership, policy, procedures, and equipment — as well as training — to ensure that we are policing the community in the safest, most contemporary way possible,” Chief Roger Chaffin said in the review’s terms of reference.

Neil Wittmann, who retired as chief justice of Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench earlier this month, has been tasked with looking at any systemic factors that may be at play. The aim is not to assign blame or concentrate on any particular shooting.

Pat Heffernan, whose 27-year-old son Anthony was shot four times — twice in the head — two years ago, welcomed the review.

“I think it’s an excellent idea. I think it’s long overdue that this should be happening. There’s been way too many killings at the hands of the police,” he said.

His son was shot while officers were responding to reports of a man behaving strangely in a hotel room. Anthony Heffernan, who had a history of drug addiction, was standing near the beds with a lighter and a syringe and did not obey commands to drop them.

The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the province’s police watchdog, initially recommended charges, but none was laid as the Crown determined there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction.

Heffernan said officers should be held accountable for their actions, but broader issues must be dealt with too.

“There has to be a change in the culture of the police force so they’re not in this confrontational mode all the time,” he said.

“The main thing we want to see is that there are changes made so that this does not continually happen, because in Calgary it’s continually happening.”

Chaffin said it’s the first time he can recall the police service undertaking a review like this. It’s expected to take about a year, but he’s not holding a firm timeline.

“I’d like it to take the time it needs to take to fulfil its mandate.”

Chaffin noted some changes have already been made and he’s open to making more while the review is underway.

Wittmann said that after just two days on the job, he has heard from police officers eager to share their thoughts. He has also asked for paperwork from the service’s professional standards branch dealing with use-of-force complaints.

His legal background will ensure the review is done in an unbiased way, he said.

“For the last 18 years, I’ve been a judge. The hallmark of every judge in this country is impartiality and independence. I wouldn’t expect that I would be in this position had I not been a judge,” he said.

The chairman of the civilian body that oversees the police service said the review has a proposed budget of $500,000.

Brian Thiessen of the Calgary Police Commission said he’s pleased Wittmann has the reins.

“We couldn’t ask for better, frankly,” he said.

“We are pleased that the service is moving forward with changes as they do their review and I’m confident that chief justice Wittmann will do a fantastic job on behalf of the public.”

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