19-year-old U of M international student fatally shot by police

An independent investigation into the events of the Dec. 31 police shooting of Afolabi Stephen Opaso is underway

The University of Manitoba community is grappling with the fatal shooting of Afolabi Stephen Opaso, a U of M economics student from Nigeria.

On Dec. 31, 2023, police arrived at an apartment on University Crescent after an individual in the apartment called law enforcement, saying that Opaso was acting “erratically,” according to a public statement by Winnipeg Police Service (WPS).

In a press conference, Winnipeg chief of police Danny Smyth stated that Opaso was found holding two knives. The situation ended with an officer shooting Opaso, who later died as a result of his injuries.

The University of Manitoba Nigerian Students’ Association (UMNISA) said it seeks “truth and accountability” in a statement released by president Olivia Ifeoma Onyemaenu following Opaso’s death.

In the statement, Onyemaenu said “we are saddened by the loss of one of our own,” and added that “mental health should never be a death sentence.”

Members of the U of M community have expressed concerns as to why the officer used lethal force seconds after Opaso was instructed to “drop the knife,” as heard in an audio recording of the incident.

Following the shooting, the Independent Investigation Unit (IIU) of Manitoba initiated an investigation into the incident. As the investigation is active, the IIU was unable to comment.

To address mental health crises, the WPS, City of Winnipeg and Shared Health Centre instituted the Alternative Response to Citizens in Crisis (ARCC) program in December 2021, which pairs a police officer with a certified clinician to respond to calls regarding mental health concerns. However, in September 2023 it was reported that the program did not have an adequate number of clinicians for it to operate seven days a week.

In a statement to the Manitoban, the U of M offered condolences to Opaso’s friends and family, and said it plans to lower the flag at Fort Garry campus throughout the first week of winter semester in memory of the student.

Along with the statement from UMNISA, the Racial Equity and Inclusion Alliance (REIA) and the University 1 Student Council released a joint statement mourning the loss of Opaso and calling for “accountability, transparency and immediate action.”

REIA founder and co-president Allisther De Castro said the statement is a message of “solidarity” from the campus community to Opaso’s family and friends.

“It’s our call for urgency” said De Castro, calling on local institutions to address police brutality, so that situations like the fatal shooting of Opaso “won’t happen again to any other students in the future.”

REIA co-president Ivan Nunez Gamez said this incident hits “close to home” for many students. He hopes students of Nigerian descent who seek mental health services due to any distress caused by the shooting are prioritzed. He noted that students can speak to REIA members if they believe it would be a beneficial outlet for them.

Nunez Gamez expressed disappointment that the provincial government has not commented on the shooting.

U of M community groups on campus are in the early stages of planning a public gathering to reflect upon the incident and highlight Opaso’s memory.

Students seeking mental health services can visit the Student Counselling Centre at 474 UMSU University Centre or call 204-474-8592 for more information.