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Tactics expert calls Victoria police action in Rauch death ‘least-worst choice’

Main portion of hearing now over, tentatively scheduled to reconvene for closing arguments on July 9
The public hearing into the police-involved death of Lisa Rauch is being held on Fort Street at the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. (Mark Page/News Staff)

The public hearing into the police-involved death of 43-year-old Lisa Rauch wrapped up witness testimony on May 8, with Kevin Cyr, an RCMP expert on police tactics, calling the decision to fire an anti-riot weapon at her the “least-worst choice.”

The incident occurred on Christmas Day of 2019, when Rauch had holed up in a supportive housing unit on Pandora Avenue, allegedly high on methamphetamine and wielding a knife. She died after being hit with rounds from an Anti-Riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN) rifle, fired by officer Ron Kirkwood.

Testimony from Cyr, who is the RCMP inspector in command of the Lower Mainland’s emergency response team, mostly mirrored that of the other experts and police involved. He said the response was justified.

After a fire was reported in the unit, police needed to act with urgency, Cyr said. This narrowed their options.

Because Rauch was reported to have a knife, and because the fire itself could be viewed as a weapon, the officers had grounds to use force to protect themselves.

But, as with other officers and experts, Cyr was questioned whether this would still be the case had the police officers known the fire was out — as firefighters had testified. It is also unclear if Rauch started the fire, and if an accelerant was used that would make it harder to put out.

Public hearing counsel Brad Hickford, who acts sort of like a Crown counsel in this case, made the point that the lack of a fire investigation means these things are difficult to know. The Independent Investigations Office of B.C (IIO) had taken over the investigation and firefighters did not re-enter the scene after making sure the fire was officially out.

“The fire department wasn’t allowed to conduct that investigation by the IIO,” Hickford said.

Cyr was also also questioned on whether police action followed proper procedures in terms of vocalizing commands to Rauch before using force.

Chris Considine, counsel for the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC), pressed the point about what the standard protocol is for a police officer faced with a person who may have a weapon, but who is standing in a smoky room with their hands not quite visible.

“Wouldn’t you say ‘hands up’ so you can see if there’s a weapon her hands?” Considine asked “That’s a standard police tactic, isn’t it?”

Cyr confirmed that is the standard procedure, but in the moment and the context of everything that was happening that day, officers needed to take their “window of opportunity.” He also said the officer had given Rauch plenty of opportunities to surrender.

“In this case, as I read it, that had already been tried over the span of an hour, and was unsuccessful,” Cyr said. “So I think sometimes one has to ask, why would we expect a different result from the same action?”

The public hearing is being held at the request of Rauch’s family. Kirkwood has already been cleared by two inquiries - one by the IIO and one by the OPCC.

Though he is not facing criminal indictment at this point, Kirkwood could still be reprimanded or dismissed as a result of this hearing.

The hearing is tentatively set to reconvene on July 9 for three days of closing arguments that will also include a statement by Rauch’s family.

There is a chance one more witness will be called before then, but Kirkwood’s counsel said a deal will ideally be reached to avoid that being necessary.

The potential witness is the lawyer who told Kirkwood not to take fulsome notes after the incident, warning him the notes could be held against him were he to be charged with a crime related to the death.

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