Family of mentally ill 17-year-old shot by police, files ethics complaint

Larry Fairholm and ex-wife Tracy Wing in the front window of her home in Lac-Brome, where she keeps photos of their son, Riley Fairholm. JOHN MAHONEY / MONTREAL GAZETTE

The family of 17-year-old Riley Fairholm, who was shot and killed by provincial police in Lac-Brome, in July, has filed a police ethics complaint, and is urging the force to re-examine the way it deals with people with mental illness.

“Riley was a danger to himself,” his mother Tracy Wing told CJAD 800’s Leslie Roberts, explaining that her son had had his struggles with depression.

“I truly believe that the police officers put themselves in danger,” she said.

On the night he died, Riley sent his mother a text message that read simply, ‘I love you.’

Wing knew that meant something bad was about to happen. She assumed he would try to take his own life.

“Not in a million years did I ever think that Riley had been shot by the police,” she said.

After receiving the text message she immediately called 911, and was told police were dealing with a man with a gun, in town (Lac-Brome). The gun turned out to be a BB gun, according to Wing.

Riley was displaying suicidal behaviour, and Wing argues police should have backed off and refrained from using force.

“(He) was alone, there was no one out, and he was surrounded by empty buildings,” she said.

“I arrived on the scene (10 minutes after receiving the text message); however, the police officers involved did not tell me that they had just shot my son,” Wing said.

“It wasn’t for another hour and a half, two hours before they told me.”

In the meantime, she and Riley’s father, Larry Fairholm, were left thinking he had taken his own life. Police did not allow them to to see him while he was lying on the street, or after he was taken to the hospital.

Months later, the family has more questions than answers, Wing said.

She filed access to information requests to try and determine exactly what happened that night, but has been told the Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI), is still investigating the shooting. 

Now, she hopes the ethics complaint will lead her to some answers.

“I don’t want this to happen anymore,” she said. “I don’t want families to have questions and wonder.”