There’s no such thing as suicide by cop

As is their wont, ASIRT released a report on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend. The results of their investigation? The complete exoneration of two Calgary cops who shot a woman to death at a Beltline-area hotel in March 2021. The woman, who was in the midst of a mental health crisis, was shot dead by two Calgary cops after she pointed a BB gun at them. 

I make a point to read every single ASIRT report that comes out. They are an important window into the soul of a system designed to make sure that police face as few consequences as possible for their actions.

This latest ASIRT report reveals another part of the system that protects cops from any consequences — medical examiners. The medical examiner’s report on the woman’s death is quoted at length in the ASIRT report and not only does it contradict itself, it indulges in bare-faced copaganda to make it appear that this woman’s death was inevitable. 

“[The woman] exhibited suicidal intent initially by calling 911 with threat of self-harm and later on by behaving in such manner that suggests she had a desire for officers to end her life by escalating the situation with pointing a fake/toy gun at the [police officers] at the scene,” says the medical examiner in the ASIRT report. 

That this person in the midst of a mental health crisis wanted to be shot by the police is pure speculation from the medical examiner. There is no way to scrutinize or verify this claim. The medical examiner cannot possibly know the thoughts of a woman moments before she was shot to death by cops, but they then go out of their way to bring up the concept of “suicide by cop.” 

"Suicide by cop (police assisted suicide) is a term to describe a method of suicide when an individual engages in threating behavior towards [cops] which poses an apparent risk for serious injury or death with the intent to precipitate the use of deadly force," writes the medical examiner. 

You have to almost hand it to them, in a dark way. We don’t refer to medical assistance in dying as suicide by doctor but “police assisted suicide” was actually written down in a real, honest-to-god medical examiner’s report. To be clear it’s not a medical term and it is thought to have been coined by a former cop-turned-psychologist in the ‘80s. 

A photo of the BB gun found at the scene where the woman was shot to death by police. Photo via ASIRT. 

Nonetheless medical examiners do have rules they have to follow and language they have to use.

"When a person commits suicide by forcing the police to shoot to death it may be classified as homicide." Here we can see the medical examiner reconciling the copaganda term they're using with the medical realities of reporting on the manner of death. There are only five manners of death: accidental, natural, homicide, suicide, and undetermined. 

This wasn't a suicide. It was a homicide — the action of one person directly causing the death of another. These cops committed a homicide, by the examiner’s own admission.

Will these cops face any consequences for this homicide? Not from the criminal justice system. Section 25 of the Criminal Code gives broad protections to cops who use deadly force if the cop believes that the force was necessary to prevent death or injury. Because they believed their lives were in danger when she pointed a BB gun at them, they could argue they were justified in killing her. 

As is quite common, the officers who shot this woman to death refused to provide a statement or be interviewed by ASIRT. Their names were also not revealed by ASIRT nor the CPS. In Alberta, not only don’t cops face any consequences when they kill people, the public doesn’t even get to know who they are. 

Before any of the details were even known Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld was defending the cops’ behaviour in the media, arguing that the incident was "extremely dynamic" and unfolded quickly. He added that he’s confident the officers conducted themselves appropriately. 

"There are times where, despite the best training, the best tactics, the best tools and even the very best of intentions, where a peaceful resolution isn't to be," said Neufeld in March 2021. 

This woman’s tragic death was not inevitable. It was a choice — a conscious choice made by two Calgary police officers to fire their guns and shoot this woman to death. The chief of police, medical examiners and ASIRT all worked hard to excuse her avoidable death.

What’s missing from the report, from police leadership, and from police commissions ostensibly there to provide civilian oversight is any acknowledgement that things could change, that deaths like this could be avoided in the future. With no reflection on why this happened or how it could be prevented, police continue to make the case for their abolition. 


The drug poisoning crisis in Alberta has reduced the life expectancy of First Nations people living in Alberta by seven years. An APTN story tracking the data from 2015 to 2021 goes into the details. As has been argued by people much smarter than me, the drug poisoning crisis is the Canadian state doing a rerun of clearing the plains

Speaking of the drug poisoning crisis, Euan Thomson at Drug Data Decoded has crunched the numbers and the situation is continuing to spiral. Weekly EMS dispatches for opioid poisoning events are spiking. With the known correlation between drug poisoning deaths and EMS dispatches, Thomson forecasts that “April, May and June will all rank among the top five-highest mortality counts on record for unregulated drug toxicity.”

Inside workers at the City of Edmonton are sick of wage freezes, so more than 100 workers and their supporters rallied outside of city hall on Tuesday. These workers do a wide variety of work and cover everything from 911 dispatchers to librarians. They’ve been without a contract since 2020. An arbitrator recently awarded the Edmonton Police Association a seven percent retroactive wage increase from 2020 to 2023. That’s a good starting point. 

Workers at the Port of Vancouver are on strike. The rich and powerful, and their friends in government, get very concerned when workers exercise their right to withdraw their labour at key capitalist chokepoints, like ports. This has led the usual suspects in the Alberta government to immediately start lobbying for the federal government to legislate an end to this strike. While the Liberals are usually all too happy to crush workers, it’s incredibly unseemly for our provincial government to start advocating for the nuclear option with the strike barely over a week old. This situation, unsurprisingly, led to Alberta’s second most-famous scab, Don Braid, to write a Calgary Herald column calling for back-to-work legislation “to stop [the strike] cold.”

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