Indigenous groups lead spirit walk for man killed by Ottawa police
Published Saturday, February 2, 2019 9:46PM EST
Indigenous leaders led a spirit walk outside Ottawa Police headquarters Saturday to honour the life of Greg Ritchie, 30, a man who was shot and killed by police earlier in the week.
On Thursday morning police were called to Emvale Mall in a suburb just outside of Ottawa after receiving reports of an armed man in the area.
Officials have declined to reveal more details about the incident between officers and Ritchie. But because the incident involved an officer-related shooting, Ritchie’s case is being investigated by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU).
On Saturday, a crowd of approximately 20 people expressed their sadness and outrage over Ritchie’s death as they gathered in downtown Ottawa.
"That spirit that is travelling right now; our brother that is travelling -- we're with them," said Jocelyn Wabano Iahtail, who participated in the spirit walk.
The ritual involved singing and drumming to honour the life of the late community member.
"There is no doubt in my mind that definitely being brown, being black, being red in this land is a contributing factor,” Wabano Iahtail added. “Before we're even born, we're faced with racist, colonial, genocidal laws and policies."
People who knew Ritchie spoke about how he had struggled with mental health issues and described how he’d recently moved to Ottawa to be closer to his family.
Some of the spirit walk attendees called for the removal of the Ottawa Police Service’s slogan -- “Working together for a safer community” -- from the police headquarters’ facade, at least until justice is served, they said.
Wabano Iahtail said Ritchie’s death will not be soon forgotten.
"It's not going to be in vain. He's going to be a catalyst, remember this!" she said.
Indigenous community member Robert Lazore also asked for the Ottawa police administration to do more to repair the fractured relationship between police officers and indigenous people.
"They need to weed out the ones that can't think outside the box; that can't see beyond themselves and go around judging people by the colour of their skin or what they're wearing,” Lazore said.
Some other fixes he suggested included re-examining training and hiring practices, as well as encouraging more diversity on the police force to better reflect the community it’s meant to serve.
Without addressing Ritchie’s death specifically, Ottawa's police Chief Charles Bordeleau said his officers “don't wake up wanting this to happen.”
"This is a tragic incident. A person has lost their life and so it impacts that person's family, it impacts our community and it impacts our officers,” he said.
The SIU, Ontario’s police watchdog, will assign six investigators and another three forensic investigators to look into the case.