Deadly dispute: Calling for accountability from the RCMP after former soldier shot dead
When Greg Matters signed up for the Canadian Army in 1994, he accepted that one day he might end up in the line of fire and not survive. He never expected to die on home soil.
But on Sept. 10th, 2012, he was shot to death in a bizarre showdown with an RCMP Emergency Response Team on the farm where he was raised near Prince George, BC.
“None of it was necessary,” said his psychiatrist, Dr. Greg Passey, in an interview with W5.
“He was alone on the farm, no firearms. Nobody was being threatened. They could have waited a month. Could have starved him out, and he’d be alive today.”
“I just don’t understand how a domestic issue got so serious,” said Greg’s sister, Tracey, who lives in Australia and rushed back to Canada when she learned her brother was dead. “It’s such an overreaction.”
Greg had served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia and left the army with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“He had all the classic signs,” said Passey. “The nightmares, the anxiety, the panic attacks, all of those things.”
A quiet man who was known for his courtesy, Greg was a changed man – paranoid and short tempered. That led to run-ins and threats of violence to the police. It was all made worse by a feud with his brother, Trevor, over land they had bought together. It got so bad, they took out restraining orders on each other.
It came to a head early in the morning of Sept. 9th, 2012, when Greg chased his brother off his mother`s property. Greg followed him, stopped his brother`s vehicle and the two had a brief scuffle.
When Greg got back to his house, he called 911 and asked the police for help. When no cruisers showed up, Greg became frustrated and called 911 five times over the next two hours.
At this point, events took a bizarre twist. Police decided Greg was the agitator and set out to arrest him. Suddenly, Greg, the man who asked police for help had become their target.
That evening, police arrived at the house where he lived with his mother asked him to meet them on the road.
“Greg did start to walk out to the road,” said Lorraine Matters, his mother. “Once he saw the police cars out here, he came back and told me, Mom, I’m so afraid, I can’t walk out to the road.”
Greg’s refusal to meet with police raised the tension and set off a train of events that would end in tragedy 26 hours later.
Frightened and confused, Greg headed for a cabin on the property. It was his refuge, a quiet place he came to when he was upset and wanted to be alone.
But police believed Greg had a gun.
Nevertheless, they deployed a heavily armed Emergency Response Team to arrest him.
Meanwhile, his mother told police she would find him and bring him to the station in the morning.
When Lorraine tried to drive to the cabin to help Greg, the police arrested her. She claims that one officer grabbed her by the neck and dragged her along on her back.
“I was begging for them not to hurt my son. So when he dragged me, he put me in a sitting position and then took his knee and just drove me so hard in my chest that I didn’t know if I’d ever get up off the ground.”
Within hours, Greg was dead.
“It’s just such an overreaction,” said his sister, Tracey. “Why was it escalated to such a high degree? It does not make sense to me whatsoever.”
The case ended up on the desk of Richard Rosenthal, the Chief Civilian Director of the Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.
“Our job is to look at cases involving death or serious harm at the hands of police,” he told W5 in an interview. “And determine whether or not an officer may have committed an offense.”
RCMP officers who had been on the scene told investigators that Greg had threatened them with a hatchet, so Rosenthal ruled that they had shot Greg lawfully in self-defence.
But Rosenthal’s mandate was narrow and there were other issues he could not investigate that bothered him.
“Certainly legitimate questions were raised about the decision making process, about why the ERT was deployed,” he said.
Those questions prompted Rosenthal to send the case to the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP.
“The police were not dealing with a hardened criminal here,” said Cameron Ward, the lawyer hired by the Matters family to handle their case.
“They knew who he was, they knew what they were dealing with and it seems to me a much more measured calm, compassionate response would have been appropriate.”
There was also the issue of Lorraine Matters’ treatment by police. That became a separate complaint to the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP.
“Isn’t the mother an ally who can help you de-escalate the situation?” said David Eby who was legal counsel for the BC Civil Liberties Association before his election to the provincial legislature.
“It’s pretty clear to me that she wasn’t seen as such by the ERT,” Erby said.
But Greg’s family has little faith their case will get a fair hearing from the Commission for Public Complaints.
“I believe it’s a situation where the RCMP will be investigating the RCMP,” said Tracey Matters. “From what I’ve heard from other cases, it’s one of the most unsatisfactory processes.”
The BC Coroners Service will also hold a public inquest into the death of Greg Matters. But the jury can only make recommendations to prevent a future tragedy. They cannot point a finger of blame.