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Why did Mohamed-Anas Bennis die?

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Section: Canadian News Geography: Quebec Montreal Topics: police, racism

December 19, 2006

Why did Mohamed-Anas Bennis die?

by Stefan Christoff

One year after Montreal police killed the 25-year-old, his family and community are still in the dark

One year ago, Montrealer Mohamed-Anas Bennis, 25, was shot dead by a police officer in Côte-des-Neiges. Circumstances leading to the death remain unclear, while the official police report on the killing, now in the hands of Quebec's Ministry of Public Security, has not been released to date.

According to Pierre Paquet, the lawyer representing the Bennis family, a Montreal policeman fired on Bennis shortly after dawn prayer at the Kent street mosque in NDG at approximately 7 a.m. on Dec. 1. Prior to the shooting, Montreal police had been called in to back up Sûreté du Québec investigators executing a warrant in a fraud case. Bennis was not the subject of the fraud investigation, but apparently stabbed a police officer for an unknown reason, provoking the police shooting.

According to the Montreal police, the shooting was an act of "self-defence". Sameer Zuberi of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), however, views the case as "an illustration of the potential danger that Canadian security and police officials can pose to the Muslim community." The umbrella organization Muslim Council of Montreal is also supporting the family.

"Mohamed was very focused on his personal faith and was someone who people had nothing but good things to say about," says Zuberi. "Now people in the community are standing up and supporting his family due to the tragedy they have experienced."

"Why is this case so secret?" asks Bennis family lawyer Paquet. "I found it alarming that the police officially declared they acted in self-defence against Mohamed-Anas on the very same day of the incident, without any substantial investigation."

While Quebec City police have been assigned to investigate the shooting, Paquet's legal appeals to provincial authorities to release the original police report have failed.

Quebec's Ministry of Public Security refused to disclose the original police report on the shooting, also deciding last Nov. 4 not to press criminal charges against the police officers involved in the incident.

"Essentially I am looking for what happened on that day," says Paquet. "The problem is that the decision from the Ministry of Public Security can't be appealed, and now the Bennis case is, on the legal side, technically over."

Calls to both the Quebec City police and the Ministry of Public Security for comment on the case were not returned by press time. But Bennis's father, Mohamed, contacted in Morocco last week, says he only wants to know how and why his son died. "We don't want to keep these things hidden," he says. "We want the truth to be revealed concerning what happened last year."

To mark the anniversary of the police shooting, community and activist groups are coordinating neighbourhood activities in Côte-des-Neiges to build public awareness concerning the case.

"We are organizing a vigil [on Saturday, Dec. 2] at the same place the shooting occurred," says Rachid Najahi, president of Atlas.Mtl, a community newspaper. For more info on time and place, see www.atlasmedias.com.

Local activist group the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality [COPB] has also taken up the case. "The cops that killed an innocent person could still be walking the streets without being brought to justice," says COPB's Kerre King. The COPB rally takes place on Friday, Dec. 1 from 5.7 p.m. at the corner of Kent and Côte-des-Neiges.

Stefan Christoff

[This article originally appeared in the Montreal Mirror.]

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