Sister alleges ‘gross negligence’ behind fatal police shooting of Edmonton bystander
By Angela Amato in Edmonton
A woman says her brother was sitting by his TV in his basement suite last February when he was killed by a stray police bullet, calling it the result of “gross negligence” from officers responding to a robbery.
Susan Bandola says her 59-year-old brother, James Hanna, had recently moved into the apartment in downtown Edmonton after becoming the building’s on-site manager. She said that he had been homeless for a time couch-surfing.
“He was just getting his life together and then this happens.”
Police have said a stray bullet struck “an innocent person not involved” while officers were shooting at a suspect in an armed robbery at a liquor store.
The provincial police watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, has said officers chased the 36-year-old robbery suspect on foot and shot him. ASIRT said the suspect’s firearm was fake.
Police have said shortly after, they discovered a resident in the adjacent building had also been struck. ASIRT has said officers administered CPR until paramedics arrived.
“I think James was dead by the time they found him,” said Bandola, a registered nurse, who thinks officers did CPR because witnesses were watching.
Bandola said Hanna was sitting in a chair facing the television when he was hit.
“Had his chair been in any other place, he wouldn’t have been hit,” she said.
Bandola said an autopsy report she obtained showed the bullet that hit Hanna, blew out the base of his hand, went through his left lung, hit his heart and landed in his right lung.
When Bandola went to the apartment after her brother’s death, she spotted six bullet holes in the side of the building, five of which hit Hanna’s suite.
“It’s senseless,” said Bandola. “I have been there at 6:30 at night. People were coming home from work. They’re walking down the street.”
The shooting took place across light-rail transit tracks near MacEwan University.
“It could’ve been a bloodbath,” Bandola said.
Hanna had been an active member of Narcotics Anonymous for 10 years, Bandola said, adding he would often be accompanied by addicts during his day-to-day activities as a way to keep them clean and occupied before they received treatment.
“He was very proud that he’d been clean for 10 years and still working his program,” said Bandola, who also said Hanna was proud to be Métis.
“He was very kind to animals and children. He was big on hugs,” Bandola said, adding he loved to travel and had been to Africa and Europe.
Bandola said during Edmonton’s heat waves, Hanna would hand out bottled water to homeless folks downtown.
ASIRT declined to comment as its investigation is ongoing, but said it anticipates the investigation will be complete in the next few months.
An ASIRT spokesperson said after it completes its investigation, the agency’s executive director will review it and decide whether to recommend criminal charges.
The spokesperson said a high number of cases and not enough staff have caused delays.
Bandola contacted personal injury lawyer Norm Assiff after her brother’s death and plans to take legal action once the ASIRT report has been released.
“This was just horrific,” Assiff said. “Should have never happened. There are so many ways that this could have been avoided.”
Assiff said Alberta’s Fatal Accident Act ensures surviving next of kin receive $82,000, but he thinks a life is worth much more.
“Obviously this is not something that the family is looking to get rich on,” said Assiff.
“If we don’t do something about it, don’t bring it to the public’s attention, don’t bring it to the court’s attention, don’t bring it to the police’s attention, what’s to stop it from happening again?” he said.
Bandola said she does not believe Edmonton police took the shooting seriously.
“What really makes me angry is that there was no formal apology to my father,” Bandola said, adding their 82-year-old father was deeply affected.
Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said during a Feb. 24 news conference that the shooting was difficult for everyone involved — “especially, in something like this where somebody, an innocent person not involved in this, has lost a life. That’s not anything anyone ever signs up for.”
Edmonton police spokeswoman Cheryl Sheppard said in an email that all officers involved have completed the mandatory the reintegration program and that they have returned to their roles. The police service would not say when the officers were put back on duty ,but said that they may have never been taken off in the first place.
EPS said that they require officers to take firearms training once a year on top of an annual qualification.
Bandola said she thinks about her brother every day.
“I think about wanting justice for James and how if it would have been anybody else, how he would want justice for them.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022.
Alberta Sheriffs receiving additional officers and more powers with new funding
Mike Ellis shakes hands with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith after being sworn into cabinet as minister of public safety in Edmonton, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Alberta sheriffs will have expanded powers and play a bigger role in combating rural crime with new funding, the provincial government said Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
St. Paul, Alberta
The Alberta Sheriffs Branch will have expanded powers and play a bigger role in combating rural crime with new funding, the provincial government said Friday.
Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis said $27.3 million will go to new positions and for rural crime initiatives, including two plain clothes teams that will help RCMP with criminal surveillance.
The announcement comes as Alberta continues to mull over whether to create a provincial police service to replace the RCMP.
“There has been some misleading commentary about this investment in the Alberta sheriffs, namely that it’s the way of laying the groundwork for establishing a provincial police service by some other means,” Ellis said Friday in St. Paul, Alta., 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
“I’d like to remind people that the provincial government hasn’t made any decision about an Alberta police service.”
Ellis said although the RCMP has its own surveillance teams, most of the efforts are focused on major investigations. He said the new sheriff teams will fill a gap by helping the RCMP detachments with local investigations.
“I’ve heard countless stories about home invasions being committed by prolific offenders or thefts from farms. Every property owner has the right to feel safe in their home and the right not to wake up and find their equipment gone or fuel siphoned from vehicles,” he said.
“These really are the type of cases that keep Albertans up at night.”
The sheriffs will also get funding to add 20 investigators to the Safer Communities and Neighbourhood unit, which uses civil enforcement to target problem properties where illegal activities take place.
There is also money for the Sheriff Highway Patrol to train and equip its members to help RCMP with emergencies and high-priority calls.
“We will provide all members of the Alberta sheriffs with full powers to arrest under the Criminal Code,” Ellis said.
“Some members of the sheriffs already have Criminal Code authorities, but we believe the public will be better served with consistency throughout this province.”
The head of the Alberta RCMP said he welcomes the additional help from the sheriffs.
“These additional resources for the Alberta Sheriffs will improve our combined ability to suppress criminal activity in rural Alberta,” said Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki in a statement.
Farooq Sheikh, the chief of Alberta Sheriffs, called it a proud day.
“While our members have a visible presence in many functions they perform such as highway patrol, fish and wildlife enforcement, security in our provincial courts … the sheriffs perform a lot of important work to keep communities safe that’s outside of the public eye.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
Finance Minister Travis Toews, Environment Minister Sonya Savage say won’t run again
Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews delivers the budget, in Edmonton, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. Toews says he will not run in the upcoming provincial election. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
By Dean Bennett in Edmonton
Two Alberta government cabinet ministers announced Friday that they will not be seeking re-election.
Travis Toews, the province’s finance minister and the runner-up to Premier Danielle Smith in last fall’s United Conservative Party leadership race, is exiting politics. Environment Minister Sonya Savage also said she will not run in the expected May 29 provincial vote.
Toews, the legislature member for Grande Prairie-Wapiti in northwestern Alberta, ended months of speculation with his announcement. He said it was a recent decision and a difficult one for him and his wife, Kim.
“(There were) personal considerations, certainly family considerations and some business considerations,” Toews said in an interview. “When we added all of them up this seemed like the right decision for us. That was the impetus for it.”
He dismissed suggestions the decision was tied to his loss to Smith or to the party’s further shift to the right under her leadership.
“We have a big tent party. This United Conservative Party has a lot of diversity. All groups are very important,” he said.
“I’m fully committed to the party, to the movement, committed to the premier and committed to an election win this May.”
Toews was elected in 2019 for the UCP and was finance minister for all but a few months when he ran to replace former premier Jason Kenney as party leader, coming in second to Smith.
Savage, the member for Calgary North-West, announced her decision to quit provincial politics with a statement on Twitter, saying she wants to spend more time with her family. She said she looks forward to remaining a party member and wished the premier and her UCP colleagues success in the upcoming election.
In a statement, Smith said Toews has been “one of the strongest finance ministers in Alberta’s history and leaves a legacy of strong fiscal management that I will continue to uphold as premier.”
“I greatly respect his decision to spend more time on the ranch and with his family,” Smith said. “There will be big boots to fill in Grande Prairie-Wapiti, and I wish him, Kim and the family nothing but the very best.”
Smith said Savage will be greatly missed.
“Minister Sonya Savage’s dedication and commitment to furthering Alberta’s energy interests and developing a Made-in-Alberta approach to responsible environmental stewardship of our natural resources will benefit Albertans for decades,” she said in a statement.
Toews had refused to discuss his future in recent weeks, saying he was focused on passing the budget, which featured a projected $2.4-billion surplus along with increased spending across the board.
The decision comes a little over a month from when the writ is expected to drop.
Smith said that given the short window, she will work with the party and the local constituency association to appoint a candidate “so that the new candidate can hit the ground running and ensure a UCP victory in this constituency.”
Toews was the early favourite to replace Kenney as leader last year – with half of the caucus members supporting him — but fell short in the end as Smith galvanized party anger with the federal government and COVID-19 health restrictions.
He locked horns with Smith during the campaign. He criticized her for past advocacy of a provincial sales tax and said her proposed — and since passed — sovereignty act would scare off investment with its promise to ignore federal laws in areas of perceived provincial jurisdiction.
As finance minister, the rancher and accountant oversaw the best and worst of Alberta’s turbulent oil-and-gas-powered economy, with massive deficits, negative oil prices and eye-popping surpluses.
He looked born to the parts of outdoorsman and number cruncher: close-cropped hair, eyeglasses and well-worn cowboy boots with a trademark monotone speaking style occasionally punctuated by high-decibel, finger-pointing attacks on the NDP Opposition during question period.
He stickhandled many controversial files, including de-indexing personal income tax, arguing for wage cuts to nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic and lifting the rate cap on auto insurance.
He was also the point person on long-running deliberations to pull Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan in favour of a provincial one. The government has yet to release research on the merits and drawbacks of such a plan, despite promising two years ago that the release of a report was imminent.
Toews was also among those who were surreptitiously photographed in 2021 at a drinks-and-dinner get-together with Kenney on a rooftop patio on the legislature grounds in contravention of COVID-19 gathering rules.
In a statement, Opposition NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips said she admires Toew’s record.
“He conducts himself with decency and is mostly grounded in reality, unlike the new crop of Smith candidates.”
Toews said his proudest achievement is leaving the province in a better place financially than when he found it, noting the new budget also includes commitments to keeping spending under control while repaying debt and investing in long-term savings.
“We’re leading the nation in job creation,” Toews said.
“All of that tied together certainly brings some satisfaction to these last four years, which have certainly been a bit of a roller-coaster.”
He said the difficult part was long nights of no-win decisions during the COVID-19 crisis, balancing public health with personal freedoms with no clear cut black-and-white answers.
“Those were some of the hardest hours of my life serving on that COVID cabinet committee,” he said.
“(They were) impossible decisions, and knowing those decisions were going to impact Albertans directly. We certainly didn’t get it all right.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
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