SHERBROOKE, Que. — Nearly four years after her teenage son was shot in the head and killed by a provincial police officer, a Quebec mother said Monday at a coroner's inquest she hopes to finally have a full accounting of what happened to him the day he died.
“To wait four years (for answers) for an event that took 61 seconds, I believe it was a lack of respect toward Riley, toward me, toward his father, toward his family,” Tracy Wing testified. “It was like, 'you don’t matter, you’re worth nothing so we’re going to give you nothing.'"
Riley Fairholm, 17, was shot dead in the early morning of July 25, 2018, in a parking lot of an abandoned restaurant in Lac-Brome, Que., about an hour southeast of Montreal.
He was dressed entirely in black, and it was he who called 911.
Police said that when they arrived they tried to negotiate with the teenager to drop a weapon — an air pistol he had taken from his father's home. The pistol was found at the scene.
The interaction between police and Fairholm lasted just over a minute, then one officer shot him in the head.
"There was no negotiation — in 61 seconds, you don't negotiate," Wing testified.
Fairholm's family has been critical of the provincial police and Quebec's independent police oversight agency, known as the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, for a lack of transparency. The shooting was investigated by the watchdog, and the Crown decided not to lay charges.
The family has since filed a civil suit and a complaint with the police ethics committee.
Fairholm had never spoken about wanting to be killed by police, Wing said. She said she received a text message in the minutes before her son's death, at 1:42 a.m., saying, "I love you."
She said she rushed around the house searching for him and found a handwritten letter from her son, saying goodbye.
A frantic Wing drove into the rural town and came across flashing police lights and a body on the ground.
Her son's death was pronounced by a doctor at a nearby hospital, but it would take 90 minutes for a police officer to tell Wing that Fairholm had been killed by police.
“I said it’s been five years that I’ve been keeping my son alive and you killed him in five minutes?” Wing recalled. “I looked at her; I said you were scared of him dressed like that? She said 'yes.'”
Wing recounted that Fairholm was sporty, did well in school, always had friends and was close with his family. Things got tough when he turned 12, she said, adding that by Grade 9, his grades began to slip and he was suspended from school for acting out and for behaviour issues.
She testified she struggled to get proper help from the school for her son. Fairholm, she said, was suffering from depression and was unhappy about not being able to graduate with his peers, as he had not passed certain required classes.
Wing said that in the aftermath of Fairholm's death, she had to battle for every morsel of information to make sure the record is clear. She said she had to fight the police watchdog to revise a public statement that said police had performed CPR on her son, which they had not done.
“I tried to take the pieces I had and put together a puzzle, but I was missing a lot of pieces and it was important for me to know everything," Wing told coroner Géhane Kamel, who is leading the inquiry at the courthouse in Sherbrooke, Que.
On Monday, the inquiry heard from Juliette Blais, a friend who had a worrisome text exchange with Fairholm in the hours before his death. She said he wasn't well and felt discouraged about life, adding that he was vague in his text message responses.
"I did what I could with the means that I had to help him," said Blais, who was just 16 at the time. "I told him to do something to change his thoughts, go for a walk, get some air, think of other things."
A day before Fairholm was killed, his friend Anders Koraen spent time at the waterslides with him. Koraen said he noticed nothing wrong in particular with Fairholm that day but knew he was suffering from depression.
Also Monday, the inquiry heard from a police watchdog investigator and a Montreal police crime scene technician who documented the scene.
Kamel apologized to Wing on Monday for delays in the inquiry, scheduled to run two weeks. The coroner vowed to shed light on Fairholm's death and issue recommendations on how better protect human life.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2022.
— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal.
The Canadian Press