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Fergus man killed by police was suffering from mental health crisis, says family

'I don't believe that several officers have to put three bullets in someone's chest when they're dealing with someone's mental health,' says sister
20210817 matbunyan kk
Mathias Bunyan with his sisters and mother.

Editor's note: This article contains language some may find offensive.

Mathias Bunyan was a beloved brother and son with three sisters and a mother who knew him as a smart and gentle eccentric who marched to the beat of his own drum. 

The Bunyan family is close but Mathias had been pulling away as he suffered a downward spiral in his mental health that ended with his death. 

Although he hasn’t been officially identified by Wellington OPP or the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), two of Mathias Bunyan’s sisters identified him as the 31-year-old shot and killed by police at his apartment in Fergus on Sunday. 

A press release from the SIU states OPP received a call for a domestic disturbance around 11 a.m. and negotiated with a man before an “interaction with OPP officers” which led to him being shot and declared dead at the scene. 

The statement said a police officer was also taken to hospital with injuries but when reached for clarification, the SIU declined to elaborate on the injury.

Wellington OPP declined to comment on this story and deferred all inquiries to the SIU, which investigates incidents involving police and civilians that leads to serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault.

Bunyan’s sister Kimberley, who preferred to not use a last name because of her line of work, said in a phone interview that her brother was not a violent person and was a victim of a systemic problem of police interactions with those in mental health crisis. 

“He’s been suffering for a while now, it’s progressively gotten worse and a lot of stuff came to light last week,” Kimberley said. 

Rachel Labrie, another sister of Bunyan’s, explained the previous week he had been found outside in the middle of the day disoriented and unsure of where he was despite living in the area his whole life.

“He was lost and completely out of it and didn’t know anything that was going on,” Labrie said. 

Labrie said it was through the kindness of a stranger, a woman whose door he scratched at, he was helped by being taken to hospital by police.

Labrie said he unfortunately couldn’t be held and chose to leave the hospital.

“My family had been in contact with the Canadian Mental Health Association and we were planning to do the intervention yesterday (Monday) and have him committed for 72 hours,” Kimberley said. 

This intervention did not happen as he had a fatal encounter with police on Sunday. 

Kimberley said it’s not entirely clear what happened, stressing they are largely in the dark based on the nature of SIU investigations, but heard from neighbours what is alleged to have happened.

From what the family understands, Kimberley said around 7 a.m. on Sunday morning neighbours at the apartment building heard Bunyan yelling and screaming in the third person. 

The landlord checked on him and didn’t believe Bunyan when he said he was okay. 

“My brother has lived in the same apartment for over 10 years, the community knew him, the landlords knew him and they’ve never seen him like that before,” Kimberley said. 

The police were called and attended the apartment but Bunyan again stressed he was fine and refused to answer the door.

Kimberley said she believed they may have been unsure if he was alone but stressed he had just his pets with him and was only a danger to himself. 

It is not known publicly what escalated the situation which led to Bunyan being shot but the family said an IMPACT crisis team should have been sent to talk to him instead of just the police, who Bunyan feared. IMPACT teams include mental health crisis workers.

Labrie said when the family heard about police activity at Bunyan’s apartment building, she called 911 and asked for a wellness check because they were concerned he was involved.

She said she also relayed his mental health treatment from days prior to the operator. 

“There should have been that IMPACT team and some special people there to help my brother because he would be laying in a bed right now had they taken other measures,” Labrie said.

Kristy Denette, SIU spokesperson, said by email preliminary information showed Bunyan had two knives and a conductive energy weapon was discharged prior to the shooting. The SIU otherwise had no further details to share about this incident while they investigate.

Labrie said regardless if her brother had a weapon, he could have been immobilized in a different way. 

“He could be in a hospital bed, strapped to a bed right now getting the mental help he needed,” Labrie said.

“I don’t believe that several officers have to put three bullets in someone’s chest when they’re dealing with someone’s mental health.”

Labrie stressed more funding and training is needed for officers to deal with mental health crises to avoid another family experiencing a loss. 

Kimberley said seeing negative social media comments about this has made her realize society as a whole needs help. 

“People forget this is our brother, my mother lost her son, three sisters don’t have their brother anymore,” Kimberley said. 

“People are so insensitive and they’re so willing to jump on the side of the law and if there’s a problem, there’s a problem and now we’re going to stand up. We couldn’t save my brother, it was too late for us to save him, but fuck everybody else, we’re going to save other people.”



Keegan Kozolanka

About the Author: Keegan Kozolanka

Keegan Kozolanka is a general assignment reporter for Elora, Fergus and rural Centre Wellington.
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