Eishia Hudson did not always receive the support she needed from Manitoba’s government and school systems before she was shot and killed by a Winnipeg police officer in 2020, a new report says.
Troubling details about Hudson’s life were revealed in the report released on Thursday by the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth. The report, titled Memengwaa Wiidoodaagewin (Butterfly Project): Honouring Eishia Hudson, will be submitted to an upcoming inquest into her death.
The report says while Hudson did sometimes get the support she needed to cope with the challenges she experienced, those supports were not always there.
Hudson was 16 when she was shot and killed by a Winnipeg police officer following a car chase in which police say she drove a vehicle that was involved in a liquor store robbery in Winnipeg’s Sage Creek neighbourhood.
Police had stopped the vehicle at the intersection of Lagimodiere Boulevard and Fermor Avenue, and as they were trying to apprehend the occupants of the vehicle, an officer fired his gun at the driver.
Hudson was sent to Health Sciences Centre, where she later died. An autopsy found Hudson died from a gunshot wound in her chest. She was one of three Indigenous people who were shot and killed by police in Winnipeg over 10 days in spring 2020.
The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba (IIU), Manitoba’s police watchdog, investigated the death and said in January 2021 that it did not recommend charges against the officer who shot Hudson.
In March 2021, Manitoba’s chief medical examiner called an inquest into Hudson’s death in accordance with the Fatality Inquiries Act, which says an inquest must be called if a person died as a result of use of force by a peace officer acting in the course of duty. The date of the inquest has not yet been released.
A judge conducting an inquest submits a report and can recommend changes in government programs, policies and practices that may help prevent similar deaths from happening in the future.
Hudson’s family, the Winnipeg Police Service, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ Family Advocates Office and the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth have all received permission to participate in the inquest.
The purpose of the Manitoba Advocate’s report is to share Hudson’s story, review the services that were provided to her and her family, amplify racialized youths’ perspectives on the policing in Manitoba, and make recommendations that could improve public services for Manitoba children and families, it says.
School-based wraparound services
Born in Winnipeg in June 2003, Hudson “was a colourful person with the ability to brighten a room with her humour and laughter,” the report says.
She was an Ojibway member of Berens River First Nation, about 360 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Both of Hudson’s parents were incarcerated when she was two, and she spent her youth in foster homes, emergency placement resource shelters and other living accommodations.
She also struggled in school, with low attendance and changes in her behaviour that were “consistent with a child struggling to belong, find connection, feel safe, and trust the adults in charge of her care,” the report says.
Hudson benefited from school-based wraparound services she received through the province’s COACH 1 program, a community-based program that provides emotional, behavioural and academic wraparound intervention for children and youth age five to 11. It also has an expansion program for those age 12 to 15.
“The wraparound supports worked for Eishia. While she was enrolled in COACH 1, she was engaged, attending, setting goals for the future, and overall was doing well,” the report says.
But when Hudson was no longer eligible for COACH because of her age, her school attendance dropped.
“The level of support experienced by Eishia during her time in COACH is starkly contrasted to the following years in which she was not involved in the program,” the report says.
The report recommends that the province evaluate the COACH program and consider expanding it to more school divisions or spaces and to students 16 or older.
It also calls on the province and school divisions to expand the availability of wraparound services in divisions across Manitoba, and recommends that the provincial government provide the resources needed for the creation of a youth model of the alternative response to citizens in crisis program, which offers support to people experiencing mental health crises in Winnipeg.
Violence, racial discrimination
The Manitoba Advocate spoke with 35 youth, most of whom identified as Indigenous or Black, about their experiences with police.
The report says youth who came into contact with police felt uncomfortable and judged, and that interactions were characterized by violence, verbal abuse or threats, unprofessional conduct and racial discrimination.
Young people have “a tremendous amount of insight” into how police can improve their relationships with racialized youth, including by recognizing young people’s unique needs and taking youth seriously, by being held accountable, and by addressing race-based discrimination, the report says.
The Manitoba Advocate recommends that the province consult with children and youth to ensure the public safety training strategy is youth-centred, trauma-informed and anti-oppressive.