2020: Likely a Record Breaking Year for Deaths by Police in Canada

Written on behalf of Barrison Law

Each year approximately five million Canadians encounter some type of confrontation with police.  The majority of these occurrences end without incident, however, roughly 30 civilians die each year following an encounter with the police in Canada.  This year has been an especially violent one with 30 civilians killed after police used force during the first half of 2020.

There is no official agency in Canada collecting or tracking the details of these police vs. civilian incidents of death.  CBC researchers, therefore, began tracking encounters between police and civilians that ended in death in an effort to build a national database and gain insight into the circumstances surrounding these fatal confrontations. 


CBC researchers examined thousands of independent investigator reports, coroner reports, court records, news reports and conducted family interviews to create the Deadly Force database, which is updated and maintained by CBC’s own researchers.  The database does not include those who suffered in-custody deaths, self-inflicted wounds as a result of suicide or attempts to evade the police, or accidental police-related deaths (i.e. traffic accidents).

CBC researchers found more than 460 incidents between 2000 and 2017.  Approximately 70% of the cases involved fatal police shootings. 

The database reveals that Black and Indigenous Canadians are disproportionately represented amongst those fatalities resulting from encounters with police compared to the overall population.  Indigenous people account for 16% of the deaths, but only make up 4.21% of the population.  Black Canadians who died after police used force account for 8.63% and only make up 2.92% of the population in Canada.

Mental health issues have been under the microscope recently following the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Ejaz Choudry (please see our recent blog) at the hands of the police.  The Deadly Force database demonstrates that most Canadians who have been killed in police confrontations suffer from mental illness or substance abuse (68% of all cases).

CBC researchers also found that the number of cases of civilian death following police encounters has risen over the past 20 years.

In response to these statistics, Tom Stamatakis, national president of the Canadian Police Association, that represents 60,000 police personnel, stated:

When you have people in crises and there’s no other option, often it’s the police that’s going to interact with those persons, and from those interactions we’re going to see, occasionally, negative outcomes.  …  Despite the fact that everybody would like to see those negative outcomes become reduced or even eliminated, if nothing changes in our society, it’s unreasonable or unrealistic for people to think that things are going to change.


CTV News has also proceeded to examine fatal police shootings in Canada.  CTV researchers examined 100 cases since 2017 and found that 92 of the 100 individuals who were killed in police confrontations were men. 

CTV researchers also found that more than half of those fatalities involved individuals between the ages of 20 and 34.  Although in 34 of the cases it was impossible to determine the race or heritage of the victims, there were 32 cases involving White Canadians, 25 of the 100 deaths involving Indigenous Canadians, 6 involving Black Canadians and three belonging to other visible minorities.

Investigations are still ongoing with respect to 46 of the 100 cases that CTV researchers examined.   Police officers were found to have acted reasonably under the circumstances in 53 cases.  Under the Criminal Code, a police officer is justified in using force in lawful arrest as long as the officer acts on “reasonable and probable grounds and uses only as much force as reasonably necessary in the circumstances”.    

Only in the case of Clayton Crawford who died in Alberta in July 2018 were charges laid against two RCMP officers for criminal negligence causing death.  Crawford was found asleep in a vehicle at a rest stop.  Police believed the vehicle may have been the one they were looking for in connection with a shooting that occurred the previous day more than 300 kilometres away.  An off-duty officer reported his suspicion to his colleagues who proceeded to approach the vehicle and a confrontation ensued.  Crawford tried to drive away, at which point two officers fired at his vehicle.  Crawford had been hit by more than one bullet and died.

We will continue to follow the cases of civilian deaths caused by the police in Canada and the country’s response to these growing numbers and will report any updates in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, it is recommended that you contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer.  The lawyers at Barrison Law have many years of experience defending a wide variety of criminal offences.  Contact our office today online or at 905-404-1947.  We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.