Lawyers of men killed by police call for joint inquest

Similarities in cases spark concern for families

Lawyers for the families of Bradley Singer and Afolabi Stephen Opaso announced their call for a joint inquest into the cases of the two men killed by police in a press conference Friday. 

Martin Glazer, the lawyer for Singer’s family, said that inquests are “mandatory in cases where police are responsible for the death of a person.” 

Opaso, an international student studying economics at the University of Manitoba, was shot and killed by Winnipeg Police Services (WPS) officers when they were called to Opaso’s residence for a mental health crisis on Dec. 31, 2023. According to police, he was holding two knives.

In January, Winnipeg police officers went to Singer’s home taking him to the hospital, just weeks after Opaso was killed. A few weeks later, on Feb. 13, 2024, Singer, a member of the Winnipeg Jewish community, was shot and killed by Winnipeg police offers when they responded to a mental health call at his home. Police say Singer was demonstrating “agitated” behaviour, holding a crowbar and using a fire extinguisher against the officers.

“They go in with a tactical team, which you would think would be used for dangerous drug dealers, terrorists or hostage taking situations, not for a mentally sick man who needs to see a doctor,” Glazer said. 

Glazer and Jean-Rene Dominique Kwilu, lawyer for the Opaso family, are seeking a joint inquest to be held “sooner rather than later” because of the similarities between the two cases. Under the Fatality Inquiries Act, a joint inquiry can be requested if circumstances of the deaths are similar. 

Glazer and Kwilu are asking the province for “transparency and accountability” and for “all encounters between police and mentally ill people be videotaped” from start to end so there is “an objective electronic record” of incidents.  

“Mr. Opaso and Mr. Singer were not criminals,” Kwilu said during the conference. They were “Manitobans, Winnipeggers who needed help, who needed assistance and, unfortunately, ended up dead.” 

The Manitoban was unable to reach Kwilu for comment. 

Glazer said he wrote to the chief medical examiner on March 20 asking for the inquest but has yet to get a response. Singer’s brother, Gerry, has not yet received the autopsy report or the medical examiner’s report, both of which Glazer said he should receive as Singer’s next of kin. 

Glazer and Kwilu are calling on the provincial government to “create an infrastructure in which families of people who are killed by the police are given resources,” like those available to victims of crimes under the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.  

“This is a terrible tragedy, and we hope that the Manitoba government makes the necessary changes to prevent these kinds of deaths from occurring again,” Glazer said. 

Minister of Justice Matt Wiebe said in a statement to the Manitoban that his “heart goes out to the families dealing with the tragic loss.” 

“Our government recognizes the need to address the mental health crisis,” the statement said, including that the 2024 budget allocates money to bring on 25 mental health professionals to work with law enforcement in the province. 

Wiebe said the province is reviewing standards in policing across the province “to ensure that incidents like these ones never happen again.”