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Charge stayed in Abbotsford Food Bank knife incident

Investigators checked out evidence at the Abbotsford Food Bank in April after using rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to take down a man who had reportedly been brandishing a knife.  - Vikki Hopes file photo
Investigators checked out evidence at the Abbotsford Food Bank in April after using rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to take down a man who had reportedly been brandishing a knife.
— image credit: Vikki Hopes file photo

A criminal charge will not proceed against a homeless man who was shot with rubber bullets by police in April after allegedly waving around a knife in the parking lot of the Abbotsford Food Bank.

The charge of possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose was stayed July 28 in Abbotsford provincial court against Colin (Roy) Roberts, 57.

Provincial Crown counsel spokesman Neil MacKenzie said Crown stayed the charge because it was felt that, although there was “some degree of disturbance going on that resulted in police attending,” it was not likely that Roberts would be convicted on the “available evidence.”

“In particular, the Crown was not satisfied … that it could be proven that he (Roberts) was in possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose,” MacKenzie said.

The incident in question took place April 16, when police were called by food bank staff to the facility on Essendene Avenue after reports that a distraught man was waving around a knife.

Officers arrived on scene and encountered Roberts, a homeless man with a history of mental-health issues, in the parking lot.

Roberts failed to comply with repeated police commands to get down on the ground, and officers then shot him using guns that fire rubber bullets and beanbag rounds.

Roberts, who was not seriously injured, was taken to hospital for treatment and a mental-health assessment.

He was charged a few days afterwards, and was later released from custody.

The release on April 22 of a video taken by a bystander at the scene resulted in some people – including homeless advocate Ward Draper of 5 and 2 Ministries – accusing police of having used excessive force in Roberts’ arrest.

In the video, which shows a portion of the arrest, Roberts is not holding a knife.

Following the release of the footage, Draper said there had been too many police officers on scene and it was excessive to shoot Roberts, especially when the knife was not in his hand at the time.

Abbotsford Police spokesman Ian MacDonald said this week that he expects police will again be criticized following the staying of the charge against Roberts, but the department stands by its actions in April.

“We play a role in the process, and our role on that day was to respond to 911 calls that a man was brandishing a knife,” he said.

MacDonald said police had two main priorities – ensuring that Roberts was not a danger to himself and that the public was protected from potential harm.

He said police recommended the criminal charge, which Crown initially approved, to ensure these issues were properly addressed. For example, conditions of Roberts’ release from custody could have included a ban on owning any weapons, MacDonald said.

MacDonald said the Abbotsford Police Department’s mental health liaison officer has continued to work with other community partners to ensure that Roberts’ needs are addressed in the community, including ongoing offers of housing.

“We’re continuing to work (with) and we’re continuing to create options for Roy,” he said.

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