Ottawa

Westboro residents seek answers in aftermath of police shooting

Several people living in the west-of-downtown neighbourhood say they're in shock after an Ottawa police officer shot a 25-year-old woman on Friday afternoon.

SIU confirms woman shot by Ottawa police had a firearm

A woman stands in the entryway of a house with her door open. A bullet hole is visible in the window frame of the open door.
Kristen Simkis stands next to her door, which was struck by a bullet Friday afternoon during a confrontation between Ottawa police and a 25-year-old woman. The woman was shot by an officer and as of Saturday was still in critical condition. (David Bates/Radio-Canada)

Peter St. John was working from home Friday afternoon when he and his wife heard gunshots outside their house. 

It was a shock to the longtime Westboro resident, who said in his 20 years living on Avondale Avenue he's never seen any violence in the neighbourhood. 

He's one of several residents of the usually quiet residential street still reeling after an Ottawa Police Service officer shot a 25-year-old woman.

"When you look out the window and you see something like that, you don't even think that it's police at first —  and seeing someone shot, you almost feel like you want to run out and help,"  St. John said. 

Police cars on a street.
Ontario's Special Investigations Unit is investigating a shooting involving Ottawa police in the city's Westboro neighbourhood on Friday. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

An officer was trying to conduct a traffic stop near Churchill and Avondale avenues when the woman got out of the vehicle and fled, according to Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

Police then chased after her, the independent watchdog agency said. 

St. John said he saw the woman running down the street with what appeared to be a firearm, something the SIU later confirmed to CBC.

'I was in disbelief'

Lara Mills lives across the street from St. John and said she believes she saw police handling that weapon. 

"I saw one of the officers pick a silver gun up off the pavement and unload it and put the pieces back on the ground," she said.  

"I was in disbelief really, because this is such a quiet neighbourhood. And I don't know that I've ever knowingly heard the sound of gunshots before." 

It was even more unbelievable for Kristen Simkis, whose front door was hit by a stray bullet. 

Simkis wasn't home when the shooting happened. She said she heard the news from her husband, who was in their basement at the time. 

"He just heard a commotion outside and some pop, pop, pop — and came upstairs and saw this on our front door," she said, pointing to the damaged front window.

"He was very startled." 

A bullet is pictured on a gravel covered road.
A bullet was left behind on Simkis's driveway following the confrontation. (Camille Kasisi-Monet/Radio-Canada)

Simkis said she's relieved her husband and kids, who were at school, were unharmed, adding she doesn't feel any less safe in her home.

"When I spoke to the police, they said that this was definitely just a one-off event," Simkis said. "I slept well last night, not bothered."

A woman in a winter coat stands outside a residential street.
Carolina Demetrio says she moved to Canada from Brazil to escape violence. She never expected to hear gunshots on the quiet Westboro street her family now call home. (David Bates/Radio-Canada)

The same isn't true for Carolina Demetrio, who only moved to the neighbourhood with her family in January. 

Originally from Brazil, Demetrio said she likes the peace and quiet, usually only broken by the sounds of kids playing. 

Hearing gunshots, she said, complicated her feelings.  

"We [left Brazil because of] violence. That's the reason why we are in Canada," she explained.  "I thought, 'I can't believe it's happening here, in my street.'" 

Questions remain

St. John said that although he walked down the street after the shooting and tried to piece together what happened, things are still unclear.

"We were able to ... see her Audi parked and doors open. [There were] pieces of a police car on the corner of the street too," he said.

"How do you go from a traffic stop to your front tires blown out and your bumper pulled off your car?" 

Like St. John, Mills also has questions.

"What led to that moment where she was lying on the ground on my street?" she said.

A man in a blue coat stands on a residential street lined with houses.
Longtime resident Peter St. John says he and his wife saw the woman running from police while holding a gun. (David Bates/Radio-Canada)

Figuring out exactly what happened is a job for the SIU, said Pierre-Yves Bourduas, former deputy commissioner of the RCMP and president of PY Public Safety Management Inc.

The agency is called in to investigate incidents involving police in Ontario where there's been death, serious injury, sexual assault or shots fired.

"There needs to be clear justification for the police officer's action," said Bourduas.

"This is an all-encompassing type of investigation that needs to satisfy not only the the law enforcement agency, but also satisfy the public that the officer was fully justified in using lethal force."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said a bullet casing was left behind on Simkis's driveway following the shooting. In fact, a bullet was left behind on the driveway.
    Mar 24, 2024 1:06 PM ET
  • This story has been updated to include the correct last name of former RCMP commissioner Pierre-Yves Bourduas.
    Mar 24, 2024 2:57 PM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anchal Sharma is a journalist at CBC Ottawa. Send her an email at anchal.sharma@cbc.ca

With files from Radio-Canada's Camille Kasisi-Monet