Skip to content

Fatal police shooting in North Vancouver justified, watchdog rules

The family of Dani Cooper is frustrated and disappointed with the report, vowing to advocate for change

A report by B.C.’s independent investigations office has concluded that a North Vancouver RCMP officer was justified in fatally shooting 27-year-old Dani Cooper at a North Vancouver housing complex on Nov. 12, 2022.

The IIO report into Cooper’s death and the events leading up to it was released Aug. 3, concluding that “officers were acting lawfully in execution of their duties when they responded to information that [Cooper] had a knife and had tried to attack or threaten multiple people with it” and that “using lethal force was necessary” to prevent police officers or others from being harmed.

Family frustrated, disappointed

The report was met with frustration by Cooper’s family, who met with Ronald MacDonald, chief civilian director of the IIO, shortly before the report was released on Thursday.

Dennis Cooper, Dani’s father, said it was “tragically ironic” that Dani had been a vocal advocate for de-escalation of police involvement in mental health crises, yet ended up dying in that same situation.

The family believes Dani would still be alive if police had taken greater steps to de-escalate the situation, said Dennis Cooper.

“There were so many ways that [Dani] could have been stopped, without fatal force,” added Dani’s sister Cara Cooper in a statement issued by the Pivot Legal Society. “While police attending these calls don’t have complete information, they knew this was a small person acting erratically.… They were unwell, dazed, and in psychosis – and instead of help they were killed by police.”

Dani Cooper died Nov. 12 following an encounter with police at the River Woods Housing Co-op, a townhouse complex in the 3700-block of Hamber Place off Mount Seymour Road.

Report details events leading up to shooting

The IIO report details how on that evening, police received a 911 call from Cooper’s mother, saying Dani had tried to attack her with a knife in their shared residence. As Cooper tried to stab their mother in the neck, the mother wrestled the knife away, but Cooper grabbed a second knife. The mother fled to a neighbour’s unit and called police.

After that, Dani walked into a neighbour’s apartment where there were two children present, acting “strange,” according to the report. That neighbour got Cooper to leave, but then Cooper pulled out a knife and pointed it at the neighbour, who ran back inside and locked her door.

A second neighbour who witnessed that described Cooper as looking “really blank” as well as “confused or scared” when they pulled out the knife.

Cooper then entered a third apartment, where they were confronted and forced out by the resident. Cooper then returned to one of the previous neighbour’s apartments, and began kicking at the patio door, according to the report. That neighbour also saw Cooper stab themselves in the abdomen with the knife.

Two police officers arrived on the scene and told Cooper to drop the knife but that command “was not registering,” according to one of the police officers, who described Cooper as “just kind of looking through me, like not really registering anything that was going on.”

Police used a Taser, but because Cooper was wearing a thick jacket, it didn’t have any effect.

Another police officer arrived and attempted to de-escalate the situation, telling Cooper police were there to help, according to the report. Cooper said they didn’t believe the officers. “You’re going to kill me,” they said.

As Cooper climbed a fence and walked towards officers carrying a knife, police tried again to Taser them, unsuccessfully. Ten seconds later, when Cooper was between nine and 13 feet from police, one of the officers shot Cooper twice and they fell to the ground. They were pronounced dead in hospital of the gunshot wounds.

A toxicology report showed Cooper had a variety of opioids in their blood.

In concluding lethal force was justified, the IIO report described the situation as “dangerous,” saying it was unsafe for officers to approach Cooper while they were holding the knife.

While acknowledging Cooper was a small person, “my experience investigating these types of cases has shown that lethal or near lethal wounds can be caused by any able person, no matter the size and regardless of the protective vest being worn by the officer,” wrote MacDonald.

MacDonald added that while Cooper was “clearly suffering from a mental health crisis,” police weren’t doing a “wellness check” but were responding to calls from neighbours who thought Cooper was trying to stab them.

Cooper was a social activist

At the time of their death, Cooper – who was non-binary and went by the name of Maiken – had been part of local activist communities on the North Shore and on Vancouver Island, where they had studied social justice at the University of Victoria.

As a teenager, they attended Seycove Secondary.

“Dani was a trans person with a wise, playful, and passionate soul who cared about everyone and everything,” Cooper’s father told the North Shore News at the time of their memorial service.

He said Dani was invested in community and bettering the world around them and was particularly vocal about policing not being a solution to poverty and trauma.

On Friday, Dennis Cooper said the family is disappointed in the IIO report, particularly in the characterization of Dani as a “menacing threat.”

Cooper said he still feels the situation could have been dealt with using other methods – ranging from pepper spray to rubber bullets.

Cooper said since Dani’s death there have been improvements to the way police respond to people in psychotic states, but there is still not enough training in de-escalation techniques, especially compared to the amount of training police receive in firearms, for instance.

“People in psychosis don’t have the ability to follow basic instructions,” he said.

Dennis Cooper said people with mental illness and addictions tend to be treated harshly by police, and Dani was no exception.

Cooper said Dani had struggled to get help for both mental health issues and addiction to opioids. “Mental health care is still difficult to get,” he said.

More than 300 people took part in a memorial service held for Dani at the North Shore Unitarian Church in December, and a memorial mural of Dani was painted by artist Kay Gallivan in Victoria B.C.

Cooper’s family is also continuing to advocate for changes to the way police respond to those in mental health crises through work with the Pivot Legal Society.

[email protected]