by N. Zahra
Basics Issue#10 (Aug/Sep 2008)
“When they shot my step-son, they shot her too…” exclaimed Byron Debassige’s step-father Mike Vigneault about his grief stricken wife. Ever since the murder of their sons at the hands of Toronto police, the mothers and families of Byron Debassige and Alwy Al-Nadhir have been struggling to keep afloat and continue their fight to know what really happened to their loved-ones. Their quest for justice has become even more urgent in the wake of Special Investigation Unit (SIU) reports being released earlier this summer.
On June 12, 2008 the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) released reports regarding the police murders of 18-year-old Alwy Al-Nadhir and 28-year-old Byron Debassige. In both cases, the reports cleared police of any wrongdoing. The reports have left the families more confused and distraught, obscuring the scant information they had collected in the wake of the murders. Both official reports clash with the information that the families had been given prior to the reports being released. In addition, certain crucial information was missing from the reports.
Nowhere in Debassige’s report does it mention that Byron was schizophrenic. Contrary to what the report says about eyewitnesses, witnesses told the family that Byron posed no visible threat and was in fact singing and laughing when he was approached by the police. Also, the report neglects to mention that Debassige was shot five times. In Al-Nadhir’s case, the report says that Al-Nadhir tried to grab the officer’s gun from him. This is inconsistent with the scant information provided to the family prior to the report being released when investigators told Al-Nadhir’s family that he had tried to run away.
To add insult to injury, each of the families were disrespectfully treated during investigation. Prior to the report on Byron’s murder being released police used intimidation tactics to get Byron’s mother, Jennifene Debassige, to admit that her son was guilty of some crime and accused her of being a liar. In a phone conversation with Basics, Jennifene described how disrespectful the police were toward her and her family, making her feel even more miserable in her time of mourning.
Salma Al-Nadhir, Alwy’s older sister, told Basics how as the months wore on and the family was becoming desperate to know what happened to Alwy, the SIU’s visits became increasingly infrequent and when they did visit, their story would change every time. This uncertainty caused much anxiety for the family, especially to Alwy’s mother who continues her fight to know what really happened. In fact, the SIU did not even have the decency to present the report to the family the day it was released.
Both families have come together to demand justice and are seeking to unite with other families who have been through similar ordeals. They are calling on all those who have similar demands and their supporters to unite and demand swift coroner’s inquiries! More importantly, that killer cops have been cleared once again by the SIU shows how useless that organization really is.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the only people capable and trustworthy of overseeing the police are THE PEOPLE themselves.
Families must unite to demand a complete overhaul of the SIU and its replacement with a truly civilian body that holds the police accountable for their crimes.
Ultimately, whether or not the Ontario government overhauls the SIU, only the action and organization of the people can put an end to police brutality. Let’s organize for Justice for Alwy and Byron, Justice for All, now!