The officer who shot and killed Beau Baker in Kitchener in 2015 will not be permitted to have his identity shielded at the upcoming inquest into Baker’s death, a judge ruled Thursday.
The unnamed Waterloo Regional Police officer argued in a court application earlier this year there were “credible reasons” to believe his safety and that of his young family were in jeopardy and therefore he wished to use a pseudonym at the inquest and to testify either remotely or behind a screen.
He said there had been Facebook posts calling for violence and even death to the officer who had killed Baker.
In his ruling released Thursday, Superior Court Justice Patrick J. Flynn said he sympathized with the officer, but found there was no evidence of “any specific threats or acts of intimidation against Officer Doe,” who is not named in the ruling, that would justify the extraordinary step of shielding his identity at the inquest, which has never been done before.
“Neither an anonymity order nor a publication ban are necessary nor justified in this case,” the judge wrote. “There is a high level of public interest in this matter. The public has a right to scrutinize and comment upon the administration of justice in this coroner’s inquest. That can only be effectively accomplished in the bright light of day: there is no better disinfectant than bright sunlight.
Barring any successful appeal, the officer’s name is expected to be made public when he testifies at the inquest, expected to begin in February next year.
The Star reached out to the officer’s lawyer, Lucas O’Hara, for comment but has not received a response.
Beau Baker’s mother, Jackie, has been trying to learn the identity of the officer for years as part of her healing process. Her lawyer said she was pleased with the judge’s ruling.
“The power of the state to take a life must be met with a full public airing of this traumatic event,” said lawyer Akosua Matthews. “Accountability relies on transparency. And the court decided in favour of transparency.”
The officer’s request to the court was an unusual one, as inquests are typically a family’s only avenue to learn the identity of the officer who killed their loved one. That’s because Ontario’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, does not charge the majority of officers involved in fatal shootings. The SIU only names officers who are charged with criminal offences.
Beau Baker, 20, had become suicidal and dependent on alcohol in the last years of his life, his mother previously told the Star.
On the night of his death, he had made alarming statements to 911 that he wanted to kill himself and hurt others, according to the SIU, which later cleared the officer of criminal wrongdoing.
Baker was standing on a landing at the front entrance of his building holding a knife when the officer, aware of the 911 statements, arrived on scene. According to the SIU, Baker failed to comply when told to drop the knife and instead advanced on the officer, who shot him.
Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering legal affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant