On November 26, 2020 news media reported that an “incident” occurred involving the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and a 33-year-old male driver north east of Lindsay in the Kawartha Lakes region of southern Ontario. The reports indicated that there had been a collision and gunfire. This resulted in serious injuries to a police officer and the noted 33-year-old male. A one-year-old male child also died from a gunshot wound. The figure below provides a general location of the area with respect to Toronto Ontario.
News media reported that the OPP were called to a location of a domestic dispute involving a firearm at just before 0900 hours on Thursday, November 26th, 2020. Police located a vehicle on Sturgeon Road which was related to the complaint. There was no information about where the Sturgeon Road site was located with respect to the site of the domestic dispute. Police reportedly attempted to stop the vehicle and the vehicle collided with a police cruiser on Pigeon Lake Road. There was no information about the location of the Pigeon Lake site with respect to the Sturgeon Road site or the site of the domestic dispute. The SIU reported that the collision involved a police cruiser and an additional civilian vehicle. A police officer was injured while outside lying down a spike belt. After the collision three police officers opened fire at the man. But there was no information whether the man had also opened fire or if he was armed. Later the one-year-old boy was located deceased from a gunshot wound in the man’s vehicle.
A few days later it was announced that the 33-year-old male was deceased.
Information provided by Global News indicated that the site on Pigeon Lake Road was located between Lilac and Settlers Roads. This area would be about 5 kilometres west of the intersection of Sturgeon and Pigeon Lake Roads. Thus the subject pick-up truck would have been travelling westbound on Pigeon Lake Road as it approached the area where the impact occurred. Pigeon Lake Road is generally straight for over 500 metres up to Lilac Road therefore, given no additional obstructions to visibility, the pick-up truck driver and police at the site should have been able to detect each other for a substantial number of seconds before the impact occurred. It needs to be determined to what degree police were able to block Pigeon Lake Road before arrival of the pick-up. Since another vehicle was also struck it remains to be identified whether this other vehicle was part of the police operations or whether it just happened to be there by coincidence.
A Global News article indicated that the location of the firearms dispute was located about 10 kilometres northeast of the Village of Bobcaygeon. The specific location was not provided. The Googlemaps figure below shows an example of a location that is about 10 kilometres north-east of Bobcadygeon, using Hwy 36 which would be the most commonly used route. The actual location would be somewhere within that 10 kilometre radius.
Analysis with Gogglemaps indicates that it would be a distance of about 16 kilometres to travel from the Village of Bobcoygeon to the intersection of Hwy 36 and Sturgeon Road, as shown in the figure below.
The site of the domestic dispute to the intersection of Hwy 36 and Sturgeon Road would therefore be about 26 kilometres. Given that the pick-up would have to travel through Bobcaygeon and there would be a number of turns involved, it is unlikely that the pick-up truck could sustain an average speed of over 80 km/h (22.2 metres per second). But using an average of 80 km/h it would take about 19.5 minutes to travel that 26-kilometre distance to Sturgeon Road.
It is another 14.5 kilometres from the intersection of Hwy 36-Sturgeon to site on Pigeon Lake Road (taking the halfway distance between Lilac and Settlers Roads), as shown in the figure below. Again, using an average speed of 80 km/h it would take another 11 minutes to travel that 14.5 kilometres.
Summing the above two distances (26 +14.5) and taking an average speed of 80 km/h, would yield a travel time of just over a half an hour. There is a substantial amount of imprecision in this estimate. For example we know nothing about any events that might have occurred during the route or what specific route was taken. However this provides a base number to use when evaluating what events could occur during that time. For example, if the pick-up truck left the site of the domestic dispute at 0900 hours it might arrive at the collision site at about 0930 hours.
Global News reported information from a “Trent Lakes resident” who indicated that “she heard a vehicle speed away from a home and that police chased it”. This information does not provide conclusive evidence that the “home” was the same as where the domestic dispute occurred. However, if this was the location of the domestic dispute then it would indicate that police had made contact with the pick-up truck at this location. This is somewhat contrary to the reported information that the pick-up truck was located by police on Sturgeon Road. It is possible that the pick-up truck sped away during the initial encounter and police lost sight of it and then found it again on Sturgeon Road. But this demonstrates how incomplete information can be confusing and can cause readers to get a wrong impression of what transpired. While there is some benefit to releasing very broad descriptions of such events there is also some negative consequence in causing the public to draw erred conclusions based on those broad descriptions. There can be occasions where, once the public has developed an erred opinion or conclusion, it becomes more difficult to correct that misunderstanding especially when a clarification does not reach all the members of the public who draw those erred opinions/conclusions.
It was noted that three police officers discharged their firearms after the impact. It is difficult to believe that this discharge occurred a long distance from where the impact occurred however no photos have been made available of the collision site or of the involved vehicles. However, if the impact was of sufficient severity to disable the pick-up or its driver then it would suggest that there were several police vehicles on Pigeon Lake Road in the vicinity of where the impact occurred.
Global News reported that an Ornge air ambulance was requested but it was unable to attend due to thick fog in the area. This presents an additional point: If there was thick fog after the collision was there also thick fog at the time that the collision occurred? This could affect the ability of all persons to see each other prior to the impact. It might also limit the speed at which the pick-up driver could have travelled during the 40.5 kilometres noted above.
There is some confusion as to what was said and by whom as several persons from different agencies provided news from conferences, news releases and tweets on the day of the collision.
It was reported that OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique sent out a Tweet on Thursday morning at 1007 hours about the incident. Given our general estimate that the collision might have occurred at approximately 0930 hours it suggests that the Carrique tweet occurred very quickly after the event occurred.
The SIU did not arrive at the site until approximately 1235 hours on Thursday. It was reported that the SIU held a news conference on Thursday afternoon thus they would have been aware of the events to the degree that sufficient information was available to provide to news media by that time. It was reported that the one-year-old child was positioned in the back seat of a pick-up truck when he was found dead of a gunshot wound.
On Friday, November 27th, the SIU reported that they collected three, police-issued firearms and a handgun that was located in the pick-up truck. They also sent the pick-up truck to the Centre of Forensic Science for further analysis. A post-mortem examination of the child was to take place on Saturday, November 28th.
Global News reported that OPP Commissioner Carrigue requested that the City of Kawartha Lakes Police Service and York Regional Police Service “help with the ongoing investigation while the OPP’s criminal investigation branch will manage the scene”. This news does not help the public’s understanding and trust in what has taken place. These police departments are involved in an investigation where police might be charged with wrong-doing. That is not how this process should proceed. When the public is informed that the OPP will be “managing the scene” it indicates that they will have access to the evidence at the scene and are capable of altering the evidence. How can that be a legitimate process? In any collision investigation it is the police who prevent anyone from getting close to the scene, even independent news reporters. The reason is that police do not want any tampering with or destruction of the collision evidence. Yet when a collision occurs where police could be held responsible for wrong-doing they are allowed to “manage the scene”, or have access to the evidence as they please. Clearly the purpose of the SIU is to investigate such occurrences independent of the police forces involved and the police should not have control of any of the evidence that could be used to demonstrate their wrongdoing. Wrong-doing could not just involve any police officers who fired a firearm. It might involve anyone in the OPP including those higher up in the chain of command who may have instructed the officers on the ground about how to conduct themselves. Thus it is important to consider what is being said about police procedures and to be fully clear about them.
The interpretation of the Carrique quote could be misleading in that “managing the scene” could simply mean securing it, as in creating the road closures and other perimeter activities to prevent anyone from tampering with the evidence. But the public does not know that. It is possible that these police forces are conducting investigations for their own purposes, independent of the SIU and they may have the right to do so. But there is confusion here that has not been clarified.
The death of the one-year-old boy could be related to police opening fire on the pick-up truck which collided with two vehicles as well as injuring a fellow police officer. This has not been proven as there is a long process ahead toward revealing what actually transpired. However an important issue is the use of force by police in a manner that causes death. Could police have done something to disable the pick-up truck rather than killing its occupants? Was the shooting an uncontrolled mayhem? Or was it a purposeful act of vengeance in payback for causing the injuries to a fellow officer? Was there a purposeful intent to kill the driver? When the consequences are high and police actions result in tragedies, it becomes difficult to get to the truth. And here lies the difficulty in any assessment of blame. Rather than following the evidence to where it leads there is a strong incentive to bend that evidence. Regrettably this is more common than it should be.