Content warning: murder, police violence, racism, ableism
On June 27 2017, Pierre Coriolan, a 58-year-old Black man from Haiti with a history of mental illness, was killed by Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM) officers in the hallway of his apartment building. The police officers had received calls from Coriolan’s neighbors claiming he was damaging his apartment and breaking windows. Upon their arrival, officers discovered Coriolan holding a screwdriver. Footage released by Coriolan’s family on February 7, as evidence in the trial against the SPVM for abuse of power, shows the moments of Coriolan’s death. In one minute and 10 seconds, the officers used four different weapons, going from rubber bullets, to taser, to live ammunition, to baton, which was used to beat Coriolan even after he had been shot.
The violent force used to attack and subsequently murder Coriolan sparked public outrage within the Montreal community. A vigil was held at his apartment building, and Black Lives Matter Montreal subsequently took over a stage at the Jazz Music Festival to demand that police officers change their methods of responding to racialized people in distress.
Coriolan’s death is part of a greater pattern in which the SPVM consistently fails to serve racialized and mentally ill people in distress; instead of offering support, police react violently, often killing civilians. Similar incidents include Alain Magloire, who was killed after being shot by the police four times for refusing to drop a hammer he was holding. Only two months earlier, Magloire had sought medical treatment at Sacre-Coeur Hospital, fearing he was going to kill someone. Farshad Mohammadi, a mentally ill homeless man, was shot in the back as he attempted to evade two officers whom he had attacked with an X-acto knife following a verbal confrontation. Mario Hamel, a man with a history of mental illness, was killed by police officers trying to subdue him after he had threatened them with a knife. As of now, none of the police officers involved in these killings have been convicted of crimes.
The coroners performing the autopsies of these men have called not only for better provincial mental health services, but also for the SPVM to receive more comprehensive training in how to aid people suffering from mental illness. The SPVM has acknowledged coroners’ recommendations and admitted that very few of its officers are trained in mental health crisis intervention. In response, they have increased the number of stun guns and plastic bullets in downtown stations and airports rather than following these recommendations. The SPVM, like policing systems across the continent, and the world, is a tool of state violence, and is built on racial profiling which especially targets Black and Indigenous people. The dismantling of the police state is crucial; however, while it continues to exist, de-escalation training and an informed approach to mental illness is imperative. Further violence, even non-lethal violence, is not an acceptable response. When the SPVM harms and murders civilians, they must be held accountable for the harm they cause.
You can donate to Pierre Corialan’s family in the trial against the SPVM here: https://www.gofundme.com/pierrecoriolan