Coroner's inquest in RCMP shooting in Port Hardy to start Tuesday

People who knew James Reginald Butters, shot dead by RCMP in 2015, hope a coroner’s inquest beginning today can prevent similar deaths.

“We are just hoping to get to the truth and change the way police and RCMP deal with at-risk people,” Nora Hayward, Butters’ aunt, said Monday in a telephone interview.

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The B.C. Coroners Service begins its inquest into the death at the courthouse in Campbell River today. Such inquests don’t seek to assign fault or blame, but rather seek facts to help prevent similar deaths.

Butters, who was also known as James Hayward, died July 8, 2015, in Port Hardy. He was shot by RCMP answering a disturbance complaint.

Someone had called 911 that morning because Butters was seen waving a knife and making threats. Some witnesses reported hearing an officer yell “put down the knife” several times before shots were fired.

The report by B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office, which examines all police-involved deaths in the province, ruled out police fault. It found Butters ignored calls to drop the knife and ran at an officer before he was shot five times.

But Hayward said records show only minutes separated the first call to the officer and the shooting, and wonders how hard police tried to bring Butters under control.

She agreed Butters had past problems with the law. He had a criminal record and spent time in jail. He also had documented mental-health issues and a record of substance abuse.

But he was only five-foot-six and he had no drugs or alcohol in his system when he was killed, she said.

“James was a small guy,” she said. “So five bullets just seems like a little overkill.”

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