SIU Director’s Report - Case # 22-PCD-018

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Mandate of the SIU

The Special Investigations Unit is a civilian law enforcement agency that investigates incidents involving an official where there has been death, serious injury, the discharge of a firearm at a person or an allegation of sexual assault. Under the Special Investigations Unit Act, 2019 (SIU Act), officials are defined as police officers, special constables of the Niagara Parks Commission and peace officers under the Legislative Assembly Act. The SIU’s jurisdiction covers more than 50 municipal, regional and provincial police services across Ontario.

Under the SIU Act, the Director of the SIU must determine based on the evidence gathered in an investigation whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence was committed. If such grounds exist, the Director has the authority to lay a criminal charge against the official. Alternatively, in cases where no reasonable grounds exist, the Director cannot lay charges. Where no charges are laid, a report of the investigation is prepared and released publicly, except in the case of reports dealing with allegations of sexual assault, in which case the SIU Director may consult with the affected person and exercise a discretion to not publicly release the report having regard to the affected person’s privacy interests.

Information Restrictions

Special Investigations Unit Act, 2019

Pursuant to section 34, certain information may not be included in this report. This information may include, but is not limited to, the following: 
  • The name of, and any information identifying, a subject official, witness official, civilian witness or affected person. 
  • Information that may result in the identity of a person who reported that they were sexually assaulted being revealed in connection with the sexual assault. 
  • Information that, in the opinion of the SIU Director, could lead to a risk of serious harm to a person. 
  • Information that discloses investigative techniques or procedures.  
  • Information, the release of which is prohibited or restricted by law.  
  • Information in which a person’s privacy interest in not having the information published clearly outweighs the public interest in having the information published. 

Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

Pursuant to section14 (i.e., law enforcement), certain information may not be included in this report. This information may include, but is not limited to, the following: 
  • Confidential investigative techniques and procedures used by law enforcement agencies; and 
  • Information that could reasonably be expected to interfere with a law enforcement matter or an investigation undertaken with a view to a law enforcement proceeding. 
Pursuant to section 21 (i.e., personal privacy), protected personal information is not included in this report. This information may include, but is not limited to, the following: 
  • The names of persons, including civilian witnesses, and subject and witness officials; 
  • Location information; 
  • Witness statements and evidence gathered in the course of the investigation provided to the SIU in confidence; and 
  • Other identifiers which are likely to reveal personal information about individuals involved in the investigation. 

Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004

Pursuant to this legislation, any information related to the personal health of identifiable individuals is not included.

Other proceedings, processes, and investigations

Information may also have been excluded from this report because its release could undermine the integrity of other proceedings involving the same incident, such as criminal proceedings, coroner’s inquests, other public proceedings and/or other law enforcement investigations.

Mandate Engaged

Pursuant to section 15 of the SIU Act, the SIU may investigate the conduct of officials, be they police officers, special constables of the Niagara Parks Commission or peace officers under the Legislative Assembly Act, that may have resulted in death, serious injury, sexual assault or the discharge of a firearm at a person.

A person sustains a “serious injury” for purposes of the SIU’s jurisdiction if they: sustain an injury as a result of which they are admitted to hospital; suffer a fracture to the skull, or to a limb, rib or vertebra; suffer burns to a significant proportion of their body; lose any portion of their body; or, as a result of an injury, experience a loss of vision or hearing.

In addition, a “serious injury” means any other injury sustained by a person that is likely to interfere with the person’s health or comfort and is not transient or trifling in nature.

This report relates to the SIU’s investigation into the death of a woman in Chapleau (the “Complainant”) on January 20, 2022. This report relates to the SIU’s investigation into the death of a woman in Chapleau (the “Complainant”) on January 20, 2022.

The Investigation

Notification of the SIU

On January 21, 2022, at 2:56 a.m., the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) contacted the SIU with the following information.

On January 20, 2022, at approximately 5:16 p.m., a female (now known to be the Complainant) contacted a friend via text. The text contained an image of herself holding a firearm, indicating that she wanted to end her life. The friend contacted police, and officers arrived at the Complainant’s residence at approximately 5:31 p.m. One officer, the Subject Official (SO), shouted out to the Complainant through an unlocked back door. When the officer received no response, he disengaged from the residence awaiting the arrival of the Tactical Unit. On January 21, 2022, sometime just prior to 1:42 a.m., tactical officers entered the residence to find the Complainant with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

The scene has been secured and the coroner has been contacted.

The Team

Date and time team dispatched: 01/21/2022 at 6:13 a.m.

Date and time SIU arrived on scene: 01/21/2022 at 1:27 p.m.

Number of SIU Investigators assigned: 4
Number of SIU Forensic Investigators assigned: 3
 
The SIU Forensic Investigators completed a scene examination. The scene was photographed and measured with a Total Station device for forensic mapping purposes. A rifle and a cellular phone were collected from the scene.

Affected Person (aka “Complainant”):

Female, deceased

Civilian Witnesses

CW #1 Interviewed
CW #2 Interviewed
CW #3 Interviewed

The civilian witnesses were interviewed on January 21, 2022, and January 23, 2022.

Subject Officials

SO Interviewed, but declined to submit notes, as is the subject official’s legal right.

The subject official was interviewed January 31, 2022.

Witness Officials

WO #1 Interviewed
WO #2 Interviewed
WO #3 Interviewed
WO #4 Interviewed
WO #5 Interviewed
WO #6 Interviewed
WO #7 Interviewed

The witness officials were interviewed on January 25, 2022, and January 26, 2022.

Evidence

The Scene

The location of the incident was the interior of a residence in Chapleau. The street the residence was on ran in a general north - south direction. The house was a single family detached bungalow. There was a pickup truck in the driveway and there was a spike belt behind the rear tires.

The house had three bedrooms. There was a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen on the main floor. There was a blanket and pillow on top of the sofa in the living room that appeared to have been used. The television in the living room was on. The master bedroom was in the corner of the house. The blanket on the bed was partially pulled back. There was another bedroom in the house with blankets and pillows covering the bed. There was an office near the main entry hall. There was no sign of disturbance and no sign of forced entry. The basement of the home had furniture and boxes and was undergoing repair or renovations.

The Complainant’s body was in the smallest of the three bedrooms, converted to an office. The door opened inward. There were filing cabinets along the wall and a printer table in a corner. There was an L-shaped desk. The office was equipped with a computer, fax machine and copier. The Complainant was in the approximate middle of the room, in an office chair facing the doorway. She was slouched in the chair with her head against the right arm rest of the chair, and her legs outstretched. There was an apparent gunshot injury to her left upper chest. There was a rifle on the ground just beyond her feet.

The Complainant was wearing a white sweater, burgundy-coloured stretch pants, socks, and slippers. No blood was visible on the front of her body. There were black gun powder stains radiating around the hole in her sweater. There was a perforating hole to the chair seatback and a hole to the wall. It appeared a projectile had penetrated the wall.

On the desk next to the body was a box of Federal Premium .44 calibre magnum ammunition. There are 11 cartridges in the box that originally contained 20.
 
There was a cellular phone next to the ammunition. The notification centre on the phone’s home screen displayed several missed phone calls.

The rifle was a .44 calibre magnum lever action rifle. It was unique in its short overall length, which measured approximately 63.5 centimetres. The chamber was opened to reveal a cartridge case with the headstamp ‘REM MAG .44 FC’, which was the same ammunition as in the box on the desk. No other cartridges were in the rifle.

The hole in the chair seatback was located above the Complainant’s left shoulder as she was slumped in the chair. It was approximately 34.3 centimetres above the seat of the chair. It exited out the back of the chair at 83.5 centimetres above the ground. The trajectory had a slight decline, which was measured at four degrees.

The hole in the wall was 76 centimetres above the ground.

After the body was removed, trajectory rods were used to show the path of the projectile and the position of the chair. The trajectory path was photographed. A large calibre projectile was recovered from the wall. It had penetrated the wall and was caught in the insulation behind the drywall.

There was a zippered gun case under the bed in the master bedroom. The foam interior of the case still held an impression of the gun that had been in it. The impression was compared to the rifle found next to the deceased and they appeared the same.

Physical Evidence

The weapon was examined and identified as a “Henry Repeating Arms” rifle .44 magnum. The barrel length measured at 330 millimetres. The weapon was researched which revealed the model to be a “Big Boy Mares Leg.”

Video/Audio/Photographic Evidence [1]

The SIU obtained audio, video, and photographic records of relevance, as set out below.
 

Screenshots of Text Messages

On January 21, 2022, the SIU received a screenshot via the OPP of a message from CW #1. There were two text messages from the Complainant with a photograph of a firearm attached. In the first text message, the Complainant wrote that she had nothing to live for. In the second text message, she wrote that she was doing it now and goodbye.

On January 21, 2022, the SIU received a screenshot of a message from CW #3. CW #3 told the Complainant she was worried about her and loved her.
 

Video Footage from Tactical Robot

On January 24, 2022, the OPP provided the SIU with video footage taken from a tactical robot – ‘Avatar’ - used in the incident. There were five video clips of six minutes each. The videos were reviewed and had no evidentiary value.
 

Communications Recordings

On January 24, 2022, the OPP provided the SIU with communications recordings related to the incident. The following is a summary of the pertinent communications.

911 Call - January 20, 2022

At about 5:22:05 p.m., CW #1 reported he had received a text message from the Complainant. The message contained a photograph of a firearm and a message saying that the Complainant was going to commit suicide. CW #1 provided the address for the Complainant and a background of the Complainant’s circumstances which made the Complainant feel she could not go on. Once CW #1 received the text from the Complainant, he had attempted to telephone her cellular telephone but got no answer.

At about 5:25:36 p.m., an OPP dispatcher informed to SO and WO #2 of the ‘threaten suicide’ call received from CW #1.

The SO and WO #2 attended at the residence and checked for the Complainant but did not locate her. The door at the back of the residence was open and police checked the immediate area inside the residence with negative results. There was no answer to their call-outs. There was a pickup truck in the driveway known to be associated to the Complainant. The police officers set up containment on the residence and contacted the Police Communications Center (PCC). The Complainant’s cellular telephone was pinged but did not produce an accurate location. A Command Post was set up at an arena. Emergency Response Team (ERT) member were being called-out to the scene.

Telephone

At about 5:38:11 p.m. to 1:57:56 a.m., police officers at the scene communicated with the PCC. They had been at the door of the residence making call-outs to the Complainant with negative responses. The police learned weapons had been seized from the residence recently but the firearm in the photograph was confirmed to not be in police custody.

A phone call was placed to the PCC indicating that the Complainant was deceased having suffered a gunshot wound to the chest.

At about 9:30:46 p.m. to 4:37:32 a.m., the Tactical Response Unit (TRU) was said to have utilized a robot to enter the residence. TRU members had gone inside the residence and located the Complainant in the bedroom. The TRU member reported that the Complainant had a gunshot wound to the chest. The Complainant was ‘VSA’ [vital signs absent] and was confirmed to be deceased by paramedics. The firearm and the Complainant were left at the scene by the TRU.

Materials Obtained from Police Service

The SIU obtained and reviewed the following records from the OPP:
  • Communications recordings;
  • General Report;
  • Report of Seized Property;
  • Email from OPP regarding the non-existence of drone footage;
  • Screenshot of text message from CW #1;
  • Event Details Report;
  • Homicide Sudden Death Report;
  • Incident Report;
  • Involved Occurrence-the Complainant;
  • Notes of WOs;
  • Officer Witness List;
  • OPP Witness Statement; and
  • OPP Tactical Rescue Unit robot video.

Materials Obtained from Other Sources

The SIU obtained and reviewed the following records from the following other sources:
  • Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Incident Report;
  • EMS Ambulance Call Report;
  • Screenshot of message from CW #3; and
  • Preliminary Autopsy Findings report from the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service.

Incident Narrative

The following scenario emerges from the evidence collected by the SIU, which included an interview with the SO and several officers involved in the police operation that developed in and around the Complainant’s home.

The Complainant had not been doing well in the days before the events in question. At about 5:15 p.m. of January 20, 2022, the Complainant sent a text message to CW #1 and CW #2. The message contained a photograph of a firearm and indicated that she was planning to take her own life. CW #1 quickly alerted the police.

The SO learned of the 911 call that had been received and attended at the Complainant’s home to check on her well-being. He was joined at the residence by WO #2 and an officer from the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service. The SO called-out to the Complainant from outside the home but received no response. The officers peered into the residence through windows but could not see the Complainant. Entering through the unlocked rear door of the residence, the SO proceeded a distance into the home - again calling out to the Complainant without response – before exiting through the same doorway. It was decided that tactical officers would be deployed to the scene because the Complainant was reported to be in possession of a firearm.
As the incident had effectively become one involving a potentially armed person barricaded in her home, a critical incident commander – WO #1 – was assigned to lead the police response. A command post was established in an arena in the area of the Complainant’s home. Patrol and ERT officers were deployed to contain the scene pending the arrival of a team of TRU officers. In the time before the TRU officers arrived, repeated calls to the Complainant’s phone went unanswered. The SO was also able to confirm with the Complainant’s family that the photograph she had sent accurately depicted the inside of the home and one of the family’s firearms – a .44-calibre lever action long gun. Paramedics had also been summoned to the scene and were staging at the command post awaiting word when they could safely enter the residence.

TRU members were flown in to Chapleau, touching down at the local airport shortly after 11:00 p.m. By about 11:50 p.m., they were on scene and ready for active deployment. WO #3 and WO #6 were assigned to conduct reconnaissance around the perimeter of the home. Like the officers before them, they too were unable to locate the Complainant through the windows. A robot was subsequently sent into the home and went room to room trying to locate the Complainant with negative results. At about 1:03 a.m., approval was given to send officers into the home with a police dog and the dog’s handler – WO #7. The dog picked up a human scent behind a closed door. Opening the door of the room – an office – the officers walked in to find the Complainant slumped on an office chair and without vital signs. A bullet wound was found on her upper left chest. A corresponding exit wound was located on her back. Beside her on the floor was a .44 calibre lever action rifle. The time was about 1:46 a.m.

Paramedics were dispatched to the home to examine the Complainant. She was confirmed deceased at 1:50 a.m.

Cause of Death

The pathologist at autopsy was of the preliminary view that the Complainant’s death was attributable to a ‘gunshot wound to chest’.

Relevant Legislation

Sections 219 and 220, Criminal Code - Criminal Negligence Causing Death

219 (1) Every one is criminally negligent who

(a) in doing anything, or
(b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do,

shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.

(2) For the purposes of this section, duty means a duty imposed by law.

220 Every person who by criminal negligence causes death to another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable

(a) where a firearm is used in the commission of the offence, to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of four years; and
(b) in any other case, to imprisonment for life.

Analysis and Director's Decision

The Complainant was found deceased in her home in Chapleau by OPP officers in the early morning of January 21, 2022. She had died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the left chest. OPP officers had been on scene around the Complainant’s home from the late afternoon of the day prior. One of those officers – the SO – was identified as the subject official for purposes of the ensuing SIU investigation. The investigation is now concluded. On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the SO committed a criminal offence in connection with the Complainant’s death.

The offence that arises for consideration is criminal negligence causing death contrary to section 220 of the Criminal Code. The offence is reserved for serious cases of neglect that demonstrate a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons. Simple negligence is not enough to give rise to liability; rather, what is required is a marked and substantial departure from the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised. In the instant case, the issue is whether there is any indication in the conduct of the SO or any of the other officers involved in the police operation of a want of care, sufficiently egregious to attract criminal sanction, that caused or contributed to the Complainant’s death. In my view, there is not.

The SO was in the lawful execution of his duty when he attended at the Complainant’s residence to check on her well-being. He had received word from an acquaintance of the Complainant that she was imminently planning to end her life with a firearm. A police officer’s foremost obligation is the protection of life and the officer was within his rights, as were those that accompanied and followed him, to do what they reasonably could to prevent harm coming to the Complainant.

I am also satisfied that the SO and the officers involved in the operations that culminated in the discovery of the Complainant’s body in the home comported themselves at all times with due care and regard for the Complainant’s welfare. The SO was prudent to pull back and wait for the arrival of tactical officers before entry was made into the home. He had good reason to believe that the Complainant was in distress and apparently in possession of a firearm. The tactical officers under the overall command of WO #1 acted with care and dispatch once at the scene. Again, because of their understanding of a firearm potentially at play, they reasonably refrained from making immediate entry into the home. Instead, they deployed a robot and repeatedly called-out to reach the Complainant. When those efforts had been exhausted without success, TRU officers entered the home and located the Complainant with the assistance of a police dog. The Complainant was obviously deceased, leaving little for the officers to do at that point other than have the paramedics attend the scene.

In the final analysis, it is unclear whether the Complainant had been shot or was even alive by the time the first officers arrived at the scene. In fact, it might well be the case that the Complainant was already dead by the time of their arrival. Be that as it may, as I am satisfied for the foregoing reasons that the SO and the other involved officers did not transgress the limits of care prescribed by the criminal law, there is no basis for proceeding with criminal charges in this case.


Date: May 20, 2022

Electronically approved by

Joseph Martino
Director
Special Investigations Unit

Endnotes

  • 1) The following records contain sensitive personal information and are not being released pursuant to section 34(2) of the Special Investigations Unit Act, 2019. The material portions of the records are summarized below. [Back to text]

Note:

The signed English original report is authoritative, and any discrepancy between that report and the French and English online versions should be resolved in favour of the original English report.