Manitoba

Families of men killed by Winnipeg police team up to call for joint inquest 'sooner rather than later'

The families of two men who were fatally shot by Winnipeg police within weeks of each other want a joint inquest to examine their deaths together, their lawyers say.

Lawyers for families of Bradley Singer, Afolabi Opaso say they're being left in the dark

A man with a beard, wearing glasses and a suit, is pictured looking to the side of the camera.
Jean-Rene Dominique Kwilu, right, and Martin Glazer, centre, are lawyers representing two families whose loved ones were shot and killed by Winnipeg police within weeks of each other over the last several months. They're now calling for a joint inquest. (Trevor Lyons/Radio-Canada)

The families of two men who were fatally shot by Winnipeg police within weeks of each other want a joint inquest to examine their deaths together, their lawyers say.

Lawyers for the families of Afolabi Opaso, 19, and Bradley Singer, 59, held a press conference in Winnipeg on Friday to call for a joint inquest and for the province to introduce support services for families who've lost loved ones to police violence.

Martin Glazer, the lawyer representing Singer's brother, Gerry, says Manitoba's Fatality Inquiries Act requires an inquest if it's believed a person died as a result of use of force by police.

But he says the act also allows the chief medical examiner to request a single inquest into two or more deaths if their circumstances are similar enough that separate inquiries are not needed.

"The two shooting deaths by the Winnipeg police, in this case, bear similarities," said Glazer. "Not only do they involve the same police force, but in both cases, the men killed were mentally ill."

Opaso, 19, was shot dead by Winnipeg police officers responding to a well-being call at an apartment building at 77 University Cres. on Dec. 31, 2023, the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba — which investigates all serious incidents involving police in the province — previously said.

Less than two months later, Winnipeg police fatally shot Singer, 59, at his home on Magnus Avenue, after officers attempted to take him to hospital for a non-voluntary examination under the province's Mental Health Act.

Gerry Singer, who spoke to the media about his brother's death for the first time at the news conference, says Bradley became ill in his early 20s and had "delusions about religious beliefs."

Two side-by-side images of two men are shown.
Bradley Singer, left, and Afolabi Opaso were both fatally shot by Winnipeg police conducting mental health-related checks in the last several months. (Submitted by Martin Glazer and Jean-Rene Dominique Kwilu)

He also described Bradley as "enigmatic" and having missed mandated doctor's appointments in the weeks before his death.

"But that doesn't mean he needs to die for that."

Winnipeg police told the IIU on Feb. 13 that officers encountered a man with a weapon who retreated into a Magnus Avenue home earlier that day. Police later described the man to reporters as "agitated," saying he had a crowbar and used a fire extinguisher against officers.

Officers broke into the home where the man lived to try and talk to him, police said. He barricaded himself in a second-floor bedroom, later confronting officers with what police described as a large edged weapon before they shot him.

Gerry says he rushed to the Health Sciences Centre when he was told his youngest brother had been shot, but learned about two hours later that Bradley was dead.

"My life has changed forever," he said. "I can't imagine how my brother felt dying like that. It's got to be horrific."

Bradley's death has devastated their family, Gerry said.

"Our family owes $18,000 for Bradley's burial and our house needs about $15,000 in repairs, and my brother's gone forever."

A man with white hair and a white beard, wearing a black suit and tie, is pictured.
Gerry Singer says losing his youngest brother, Bradley, after he was shot and killed by police nearly two months ago, has changed his life 'forever.' (Trevor Lyons/Radio-Canada)

Benjamin Nkana Bassi, one of the lawyers representing Opaso's family, says his clients face similar financial struggles.

The Nigerian student's family had to borrow money to pay for plane tickets, hotel stays and funeral costs to have the 19-year-old buried in Winnipeg last month, Bassi said.

"The family would like to know — in that kind of situation, when the police kill somebody — what does the government do to assist them at least financially to bury their loved ones?"

'A wall of silence' after killings: lawyer

Winnipeg police said the 19-year-old, an international student who studied at the University of Manitoba, was armed with two knives when officers shot him on Dec. 31.

On Jan. 10, the IIU said it tapped its Alberta-based counterpart to take over the investigation of Afolabi's death to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, after a Manitoba Justice employee was found to be a "close relative" of a police officer involved in the shooting.

The investigations into Opaso and Singer's killings have yet to conclude.

Glazer says both families are calling on the province to introduce support services for Manitobans whose loved ones are killed by police.

He said both Opaso and Singer's families feel "ignored by the system and left to deal with their loss on their own, without any guidance or support."

Lawyers for both of the families are representing them pro bono, and they want to see an inquest take place "sooner rather than later," Glazer said.

"Sometimes you don't get an inquest for years."

A man is pictured from the side. He's sitting sandwiched between two other people.
Martin Glazer, centre, is the lawyer representing Gerry Singer, left. He says Opaso and Singer's families feel 'ignored by the system and left to deal with their loss on their own.' (Trevor Lyons/Radio-Canada)

Jean-Rene Dominique Kwilu, another lawyer for the Opaso family, says an inquest would solve many questions that the families have that remain unanswered.

"We need transparency, so these families can get not only the answers but … also get the support that they need," he said.

Kwilu said he and the others speaking at the press conference are not looking to disparage the police or come to conclusions about the investigations into Opaso's or Singer's deaths.

However, police "are there to protect and to serve, and family members have concerns when that mandate is not being fulfilled," he said.

"It seems as though a call for help, unfortunately in Manitoba for people with mental health [issues], seems to become a death sentence and also a wall of silence."

Manitoba Justice Minister Matt Wiebe said in a statement to CBC News his heart goes out to families dealing with the tragic loss of a loved one.

Wiebe said the province is in the process of reviewing policing standards in Manitoba "to ensure that incidents like these ones never happen again."

The statement also notes the province's 2024 budget, released earlier this week, included $4 million to hire 25 mental more health workers to work alongside law enforcement.

Wiebe also said the Independent Investigation Unit has recently hired a director for Indigenous and community relations, which he called "a first step towards changing the way the IIU interacts with families and communities."

Families of men shot by Winnipeg police calling for joint inquest into their deaths

2 months ago
Duration 2:17
The families of Afolabi Stephen Opaso and Bradley Singer, who were fatally shot by Winnipeg police within weeks of each other, want a joint inquest to examine their deaths together, their lawyers say.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story indicated the province had not responded to CBC's request for comment. The story has been updated with comment from Justice Minister Matt Wiebe.
    Apr 06, 2024 4:35 PM CT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Özten Shebahkeget is Anishinaabe/Turkish Cypriot and a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation who grew up in Winnipeg’s North End. She has been writing for CBC Manitoba since 2022. She holds a master of fine arts degree in writing from the University of Saskatchewan.