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Two years ago today, Andreas Chinnery was shot and killed by police  responding to a noise complaint at his Barton St. E. apartment. Finding him home alone, distraught and allegedly brandishing a bat, police claim they fired in self-defense. Since that day, Andreas’ family has been demanding answers and an apology from the Hamilton Police Department and despite news coverage, legal actions and numerous marches downtown, they’re still waiting.

This past October, Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit finally announced a (mandatory) inquest into the shooting, though it’s currently on hold until the spring. The Chinnery family’s lawyer has criticized these proceedings, complaining that both officers (shooter and witness) have the same lawyer, though the coroner has yet to rule on whether this is a conflict of interest. Yesterday, the family announced that they’re also launching a lawsuit against the police for $650 000 in damages.

In many ways, Andreas’ death has come to symbolize growing concerns about police violence and accountability in Hamilton. A year ago the Ontario Ombudsman threatened yet another review if police don’t start cooperating with SIU investigations, citing a string of incidents with Hamilton police (including Andreas’ death) as an example. Other cases, such as the severe beating of Po La Hay, a refugee living in a Sanford Ave. apartment which mistakenly became the target of a 2010 drug raid. Constable Ryan Tocher was acquitted of excessive forces charges the following year when the other four officers present in the apartment were “unable or unwilling” to identify the officer who “stomped” him, prompting the judge to lambaste Hamilton Police for a defense that “raises the spectre of a cover-up“. Ryan Tocher, by the way, has also been now been investigated for the shooting deaths of two South Asian men in addition to this incident.

Elsewhere in Canada, prison guards from Kitchener, Ontario have seen charges dropped over the 2007 death of Ashley Smith in their custody, also finally now seeing an inquest. Smith choked to death in her cell as guards watched after tying a ligature around her neck, a common occurrence during her lengthy stay in solitary confinement. In Saskatoon, two weeks ago, another prisoner was found dead, this time at the Regional Psychiatric Facility. Kinew James had reportedly been demanding for medical attention for over an hour or more before dying of a heart attack in her cell. James, a recent inmate of the same Grand Valley Institution for Women that Ashley Smith had died in, was transferred last fall after coming forward about guards exchanging drugs and other contraband with inmates for sexual favours. A day after James died in her cell, corrections officials and Waterloo Regional Police announced that the allegations were “unfounded” and no charges would be laid.

Earlier this afternoon, the Chinnery family held a demonstration along with around fifty supporters. Beginning at City Hall with speeches, the rally marched through downtown chanting toward the Central Police Station where a second round of speeches were held. Activists raised many questions, including why there aren’t more mental health and crisis intervention professionals available as first responders, and whether a teenager on the West Mountain would have been treated the same way. After dispersing from the Central station, a smaller group headed for a second rally outside the east-end station which sent the officers two years ago.

This formula has now become familiar, for rallies over the death of Andreas Chinnery, the “Project Marvel” raid on the Markland family and other cases. They’re a reminder that whatever the SIU and courts decide, the community won’t forget these injustices. Until the department cleans up its act, they’re going to keep happening.

Grand Valley also saw a crowd of demonstrators lining their fence earlier this week, protesting over the fate of Kinew James, the sex scandal and other concerns about treatment of women inside. Prison demonstrations like this have also become quite common over the past few years and Hamilton’s seen more than a few (most recently at New Years and during the guards’ job action).

Actions like this signal a shift in the way people view our justice system. The recent police budget controversy would have been almost unthinkable a few years ago, but now even suburban councilors want to know where their endless 5%/year increases are going. While cops and guards are getting away with murder, the rest of us are facing harsher prison sentences and a growing prison population thanks to the Harper government. Dare I say this constitutes two-tiered-justice, or that this hug-a-thug approach to violent offenders needs to stop?

It’s been two years since Andreas Chinnery was taken from us. It didn’t have to happen, but it hasn’t happened in vain. I can’t imagine what his family has gone through over these two years, but their continuing efforts to seek justice are an inspiration to all of us. Together, we can ensure that this kind of tragedy never happens again, and that young victims like Andreas are never forgotten.


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