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Closing submissions heard in Daniel Legarde inquest

Closing submissions were heard in the coroner’s inquest into the death of Daniel Legarde, who was shot by an Ontario Provincial Police Officer in Nipigon in 2016
Nipigon OPP Shooting 1
Members of the SIU conducting an investigation following the fatal shooting of Daniel Legarde in Nipigon in 2016. (File).

NIPIGON, Ont. – Counsel for all parties in the coroner’s inquest into the death of Daniel Legarde, who was shot by a Nipigon Ontario Provincial Police officer in 2016, agree that the evidence shows his manner of death was homicide.

Closing submissions were heard on Thursday in the coroner’s inquest examining the circumstances of Legarde’s death in Nipigon on Nov. 26, 2016.

The jury will now be tasked with determining Legarde’s manner of death as well as handing down recommendations to prevent a similar death from happening in the future.

An inquest is mandatory under the Coroner’s Act when someone dies following an interaction with police.

The inquest opened last week in Nipigon and the jury heard testimony from 18 witnesses.

Legarde, 45, was shot in the abdomen by an OPP officer after responding to a 911 call regarding an unwanted individual inside a Park Road residence in Nipigon.

According to the evidence, Legarde had a knife and officers first used a taser, but it had no effect. An OPP officer then discharged a firearm at Legarde when he began to approach with the knife raised, striking him in the abdomen. He was transported to the hospital in Nipigon where he died of his wounds.

An investigation by the Special Investigations Unit found that the officers acted lawfully within the course of their duties and there were no grounds to lay charges.

Before closing submissions, the coroner’s counsel shared a joint set of answers to the five questions the jury is required to answer, including the manner of death.

The joint determination based on the evidence presented at the inquest is that Legarde’s manner of death was homicide. A determination of homicide is not criminal in nature, but rather that Legarde did not die as a result of natural causes, an accident, or suicide.

A joint set of recommendations was also shared with the jury, which focused largely on updating and expanding training for police officers in relation to intimate partner violence calls, Indigenous-specific training and relationship building, and de-escalation.

Davin Charney, counsel for the Legarde family, presented additional recommendations on behalf of the family that also focused primarily on police training.

“If we compare the 2004 use of force model to the updated and renamed model, the Ontario Public Police Interaction Training Aid, it represents a shift in policing where de-escalation is more emphasized. I think all of the parties agree that that is a good trend,” he said.

“The evidence that we heard about officer training doesn’t establish that there is equal emphasis on use of force as compared to de-escalation. That is what this recommendation speaks to. It is suggesting there should be an equal emphasis on both of those.”

Use of force experts who testified at the inquest earlier this week said several options existed for the officers to de-escalate the situation prior to using lethal force. This included creating distance from Legarde and then utilizing verbal de-escalation techniques.

“This isn’t about did someone do things right, did someone do things wrong. Obviously, the officers were in a very difficult situation, they are under stress,” Charney said.

“The techniques for de-escalation in this kind of scenario, they need to be automatic. They can’t be thinking, processing, panicking. It’s only through training, we heard about scenario training, it’s only through more training, more scenarios, more practice, where those de-escalatory words will come naturally and easily to police officers.”

One of the added recommendations presented by the family is requiring police officers have a post-secondary degree.

Charney argued that policing is a complicated career and there are many different areas where officers are required to be proficient, such as the criminal code, technical skills, and legal issues.

“In my view, 12 weeks of training at the [Ontario Police College], even with a few weeks prior pre-training and a few weeks post-training, is simply not sufficient to meet the needs of police officers in a complicated and difficult job,” he said. “More educated police officers will be better equipped to deal with the modern demands of modern policing.”

Norm Feaver, counsel for the OPP, took issue with the recommendation of police officers requiring a post-secondary education, calling it elitist.

“I would say a post-secondary degree doesn’t necessarily translate to a better police officer,” he said. “Can we say that if all police officers had a post-secondary education that would somehow prevent deaths in similar circumstances? I would submit that is not the case.”

Feaver added that such a requirement could also preclude certain groups from pursuing a career in policing, such as Indigenous people or other marginalized groups that may face barriers to access to education.

“Isn’t it individuals from these groups we want to see reflected in policing?” Feaver said.

Charney also argued that training needs to create a cultural shift within policing to negate the concept that some deaths cannot be prevented.

He referenced testimony by the responding officers who said they did not feel they had any other option at the time than to use lethal force, and even after six years of reflection, that opinion had not changed.

“Training needs to introduce this idea that these deaths are preventable,” Charney said.

“I don’t agree with the comment that all deaths are preventable,” Feaver argued during his closing submission. “If someone comes at you with a knife and tries to stab you, how is that that preventable?”

The jury will now deliberate on the manner of death and any recommendations it wishes to hand down. While the parties jointly agreed that the manner of death is homicide, it is ultimately the jury’s determination.

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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