The wife of a Cree man whose arrest by Winnipeg police was widely publicized says he is suffering and needs help for his meth addiction, not to be kicked by officers or locked up in jail.
Flinn Dorion, 33, was arrested on the morning of Thursday, June 11, after allegedly smashing a window at the Centennial Concert Hall. Police also said they had reports he had a gun, which later turned out to be a replica.
Videos take by a bystander and from surveillance cameras show an officer kicking Dorion during the arrest, a move police said was necessary to prevent him from reaching for a knife.
“I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all,” said his wife Joanne Fontaine, 30.
“They could’ve done something else, instead of kicking him and everything.… In the video, it doesn’t even look like he’s doing anything, like resisting or anything.”
At a press conference after the bystander video was shared widely, a police spokesperson acknowledged the video was tough to watch, but said the use of force was justified after Dorion refused demands to get on the ground and assaulted an officer. The police spokesperson suggested that that the kick that prevented Dorion for reaching for the knife might have saved his life.
Fontaine said she and Dorion have lived together at the Main Street Project shelter for several months, and when she’d last seen him a few days before the arrest, he was angry and not himself. One of his biological sisters, who he’d only recently met, had died about two weeks prior.
“He’s usually — when he’s not high or anything — he’s normally a good guy. Quiet, hardworking guy. Very friendly,” she said. “That’s why we get along together — we’re both the same people. We’re good people.”
Dorion is originally from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northwestern Manitoba, but spent most of his childhood in foster homes in Winnipeg. He never knew his biological parents. His mother, Elizabeth Dorion, went missing in Pukatawagan in 1999 and is believed to have been murdered.
Dorion graduated from a Winnipeg high school and went on to be a roofer, a job he held for several years before having three children with Fontaine.
She says he started using meth after her mother, with whom he was close, died from cancer. Now, he talks to himself and lashes out.
“I told him it’s not him. It’s just the drug taking him. I told him deep down inside he’s a good person. And I told him that’s what I love about him. That’s the guy I fell in love with.”
Fontaine, who is originally from Sagkeeng First Nation, said her husband is hurting and isn’t dealing with the problems that are bothering him.
Their children now live with family members, she said. Dorion struggled with alcohol and was charged with assaulting her three times before getting sober last year, she said. But he never quit meth, and never spoke of wanting to.
“We’re both lost every day. We’re good people and everything but then … just don’t know how to keep going. Because we’re just on our own, me and him. No family,” she said.
She said he’s lashed out at Main Street Project too.
“He just yells and everything, and they know how to calm him down and that’s pretty much it.”
‘Sorry, please forgive me’
Dorion is currently at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, facing charges of assaulting an officer, mischief, breaking and entering, and three charges of possessing a weapon.
He was arrested for the first time in 2012 at the age of 25 after writing “Sorry, please forgive me” on the $100 bill he and his friend had racked up at Boston Pizza before they walked out. He pulled a butter knife on the police officer who tackled him in the parking lot.
The judge gave him a probationary sentence for that assault and said she hoped never to see him back in court again.
“I’m hoping that you stay out of trouble and get the support that you need in the community,” said Justice Wanda Garreck. “If you’ve been able to go this long without any trouble or any record, you certainly can continue.”
But that support was needed long before then, says a respected elder from Sagkeeng First Nation.
Dorion’s experience with police, and now the justice system, is all too common among Indigenous people taken from their families and culture, says Dave Courchene.
“It’s very unfortunate when I see … what I see happening, and how human beings are brutalizing other human beings and dehumanizing human beings when that individual is sick,” said Courchene, who founded the Turtle Lodge healing centre in Sagkeeng First Nation.
“Do you brutalize someone when they have cancer?”
Too many Indigenous people are criminalized for behaviour related to mental health, which is often the product of becoming victims of an environment they didn’t create, he said.
He appeals to others to recognize “that everyone has a shared responsibility to help bring back what was taken away.”
“I think people have to see the merits of helping to support, give back what was taken away from a people who have been here tens of thousands of years.”
He said the land is sacred, and he wishes he could take every Indigenous person who never had traditional rites of passage the opportunity to experience healing on the land.
“The root of the problem for most Indigenous people is a loss of their identity. They don’t know who they are. They’re confused, they’re depressed, they’re angry.”
Fontaine said she and Dorion have gone through everything together, from coping with a miscarriage, to sleeping outside, to the deaths of many family members. She, too, would like to see him get better.
“He needs to be able to grieve with everything he’s dealing with. Because he’s hurting and he’s suffering. And I’m the only person he has, and I can’t do it on my own.”
She has his name tattooed on her wrist, a daily reminder of her unconditional love, just as he has her name on his.
“I’m just not going to give up on him.”