Three years ago, on June 4, Chantel Moore, a Tla-o-qui-aht/Nuu-chah-nulth woman, was shot five times by an Edmundston, New Brunswick, police officer during a wellness check.
The reverberations of her death are still being felt loud and clear today.
Five months later, Chantel’s mother Martha Martin was forced to endure another loss, as her son Mike Martin died in a B.C. correctional centre. Another failure of the justice system. Another tragedy for Martha to endure.
On Saturday, Martha Martin held a sacred ceremony to release the ashes of Chantel and Mike into the Somass River in Port Alberni, a favourite place of both siblings.
A lone eagle soared above the river during the ceremony, a school of sockeye salmon waited for the family as they made their way into the river for an important happening that had to have these witnesses.
Chants and songs floated in the air as many family, friends and community members gathered to support Martha and to remember the young, beautiful lives of Chantel and Mike.
While scattering the ashes of her loved ones brought some closure to the grieving, tormented mother, people know there has been no justice for Chantel. Many in the crowd wore shirts that said "No Justice, No Peace" as a stark reminder of that fact.
The day brought many memories of all that Martha had endured trying to find the facts about what happened and seeking justice for her daughter.
She had seen the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes — the independent Quebec police review agency — conclude the officer had acted appropriately.
She had learned that Crown counsel decided not to press charges against Const. Jeremy Son, the police officer who shot a small woman five times, allegedly out of fear for his life.
And she had reviewed a coroner’s inquest jury’s findings, which ruled the shooting a homicide and made recommendations for change.
The only outstanding legal issue is the family’s civil suit against Son.
Much effort by many went into raising the profile of the police shooting to ensure wellness checks were handled by trauma-informed workers and not police. That better training went into disarming individuals and not shooting to kill. That better cultural training be given to all officers who deal with Indigenous people. That First Nations people play a role in all aspects of justice, including independent investigations, trauma-informed teams, as experts for judges and Crown counsel to consult, and so much more. Body cameras for all police officers so it’s not just the story of the police officer when victims like Chantel can’t tell their facts.
Some of these things have been looked at, but very few fully implemented. Body cameras are being rolled out across Canada. B.C. and Canada are amending their police acts and related legislation, supposedly to align them with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I question whether they are actually talking to all of the families who have been impacted by police shootings or violence. Also whether they are talking to enough First Nations who have been unduly impacted by shootings of police.
There are action plans around murdered and missing women and girls, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. So many actions that need to be fully implemented so make our communities safe.
Shocking events like Chantel’s shooting have to be remembered so appropriate changes will be made. That recommendations for changes in the justice system be acted upon and not just given words and left on a dusty shelf. Otherwise we will always feel that justice for Chantel and many others remains elusive and unattainable. No one should feel the way many of us did as we watched a distraught mother release the ashes of her children.
The sad thing is that Indigenous lives are still being taken by police shootings. Every time I hear of another police shooting or act of violence, I remember that we have not done enough. Policing needs to change, full stop.
An investigation will cover allegations that RCMP in Prince George harassed Indigenous girls and covered up evidence, emphasizing how deep problems in policing go. We seek justice for those girls and all those who have suffered unduly at the hands of police.
What has changed in the past three years since Chantel was shot? Not enough, and much more needs to be done.
Martha Martin committed to making her daughter’s life mean something and vowed to keep fighting for changes so no one else has to suffer as she has with the death of her daughter.
As Chantel and Mike’s ashes float down the river out into the ocean, let us always remember we have work to do to keep our children safe from the justice system that works against us and not for us. Let us always remember Chantel as a symbol of things gone wrong and ensure that can’t happen again.
Police are meant to protect us and not kill us. Let us recommit ourselves to bringing justice to all those lives lost in the system and preventing more cases from happening.