Public coroner’s inquiry into Riley Fairholm’s death set for June

By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative

Tracy Wing waited over 1,330 days to acquire documents from Quebec’s police watchdog, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), in hopes of uncovering more information on the confrontation that led to her son’s death in July 2018.

Riley Fairholm, Wing’s son, was suffering a mental health crisis on July 25, 2018. He was carrying an air gun, walking in the street in Lac-Brome, when he was confronted by Sûreté du Québec (SQ) police officers. The encounter lasted 60 seconds, and Fairholm lost his life.

Wing has been searching for answers ever since. She has sliced through red tape, broken down barricades, and overcome obstacles to piece together what happened on that night. And now with the 245-page BEI report in hand, she can see why they tried to stonewall her.

“I’ve asked more questions than they did. There’s four questions that they asked and that was it. It’s not an interrogation, so that I’m very disappointed with. I don’t believe that it’s an investigation and now I understand why they don’t make that stuff public,” she said.

According to Wing, there are still gaps in the story. She told Brome County News that the officer who shot Fairholm didn’t answer any questions. The officer was also never charged. All she had to go on back then was a short, handwritten account of the violent confrontation.

“The whole thing happened in 60 seconds and from what I’m reading they were not prepared, at all. I think they thought it was not a serious call. They say one police officer talked, but then you have three declarations saying they all talked to Riley,” said Wing.

She called the entire process a joke. The police officers are never considered guilty in these situations, Wing explained. And from what she has seen they were also not pressed enough for an encounter that ended in death, but they would try everything to make a criminal crack.

“The way they’re questioning them it’s like they’re just trying to get the information that will validate use of force. That’s my opinion, you know, that’s what I believe,” said Wing, sharing that her family has hired a lawyer to review the documents in lead up to the public inquiry.

The Quebec coroner’s inquiry will take place on the week of June 13, she continued, and run until June 23. When asked how she feels about waiting years for the BEI report and for a public inquiry, she explained that she suspects they thought Wing and her family would go away.

“Well my thoughts on that are that it’s purposeful. I believe that they were really hoping that I was going to go away, or we, I should say, my family, because it’s always me speaking but I want the readers to know that Riley’s dad, Larry, backs me every step of the way,” she said.

A major turning point in her search for justice was when she was invited to speak at the National Assembly in 2020. Her passionate speech moved the provincial coroner, who was in attendance in Quebec City that day, and they finally decided to call a public inquiry.

“Not everybody gets to go to the National Assembly, so had I not been able to go there, I don’t know if I would have received help. Nobody had looked at Riley’s file. It went through three coroners, because either they switched jobs or they had other mandates to do,” said Wing.

But while the pieces are falling into place right now, she also told Brome County News that she doesn’t expect to find any justice when this is all said and done. Her family will likely be victimized at the inquiry. It won’t be labeled a homicide, and there won’t be any fault or guilt.

A public inquiry isn’t putting anyone in jail, she explained, but it could lead the coroner to recommend changes to the provincial police force. They might suggest more mental health training, and focus on de-escalation tactics. But even then, Wing isn’t sure it will do anything.

“It’s just a recommendation so it’s like every other commission that we’ve ever had […] all of these recommendations and there’s never any follow through or any follow up, nobody going in five years and saying ‘have you changed the policies?’ it shouldn’t take 20 years,” she said.

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