“The police officer who shot my brother is a coward and a cold-blooded murderer”: Kyaw Din’s family demands justice for his murder by Ridge Meadows RCMP
On the first day of his life in Canada, at the border, CBSA agents singled Kyaw Din out from the rest of his family members, interrogating him after claiming that they had reason to believe that he was an impostor.
Expecting Canada to be a welcoming place, Kyaw and his family were shocked by his mistreatment by border guards. Shortly after, while on his way to an English language class in Abbotsford, the RCMP arrested and cuffed Kyaw, then drove him around in their cruiser before letting him go, admitting they had falsely arrested him. Kyaw was traumatized by both these encounters with Canadian police, and stopped attending ELL classes completely out of fear of leaving his home. It was then that he first began suffering from symptoms of schizophrenia.
Despite the challenges of living with schizophrenia, Kyaw’s family reports that he enjoyed every day of his life, no doubt because of the strong family support of his parents, who both died a few years ago, and his siblings. While the family, or Kyaw himself, had called the police roughly seven times over the past two years to help take him to the hospital when he needed mental health support, Kyaw was never physically violent and always went peacefully. His sister Yin Yin, who lived with him, explained that these hospital visits were often just a week long.
But on August 11th, what should have been a simple police attendance to arrange an ambulance for Kyaw ended in his brutal murder.
The RCMP murder of Kyaw Din
The day Kyaw was killed, his sister Yin Yin called the police for help to take him to the hospital. Two officers arrived on site. After talking to Yin Yin and learning that Kyaw had not hurt himself or anyone else, nor threatened to hurt anyone, and that he was sitting peacefully and quietly in his room, they suggested to Yin Yin that police attendance didn’t seem to be necessary.
The situation was calm and under control, until an additional two officers arrived.
The two newly-arrived police officers insisted on entering Kyaw’s room. They did not listen to Yin Yin when she asked them to wait for five or ten minutes for her two older brothers and older sister, who could speak Burmese (Kyaw did not speak English well, as the RCMP knew) and encourage their brother to go to the hospital. Kyaw didn’t know the police were in the house, and Yin Yin was concerned for him.
Yin Yin told the police officers that Kyaw was not violent and did not have a knife or a gun. She explained that she had just looked in his room and Kyaw was sitting in a chair by his bed, holding a bottle of sugar that he was pouring into a plastic jar. Yin Yin asked the police not to shoot Kyaw. The officers said, “We don’t need to wait for your sister and brothers to arrive. We won’t shoot your brother.” One of them laughed and said, “I’m not even carrying a gun!” After reassuring her that they “deal with this kind of thing all the time”, they asked her to step aside, and approached Kyaw’s bedroom door.
Standing just a few feet behind them, Yin Yin saw one officer raise and aim his taser at the closed door. After they opened the door and stepped in, Yin Yin heard one of them say, “Are you okay?” Then she saw a bottle land against a wall inside his room, away from the officers.
A few seconds later, Kyaw was dead. The RCMP officer fired three bullets, into his face, his neck, and his upper chest. The officers pushed Yin Yin immediately out of her home without telling her anything about Kyaw’s condition. Minutes later, her siblings arrived, where they were stuck standing outside the home for nearly 12 hours. It wasn’t until two hours later that the family was told that Kyaw was dead.
“It was a plot by the police”
Two hours after the police took control of the house, the Independent Investigator’s Office (IIO) arrived to investigate the death. The IIO officer told Yin Yin later that day that Kyaw had thrown a weight at the officers, denting the wall outside his room. The Ridge Meadows RCMP announced that Kyaw had a knife and misleadingly characterized the nature of the call as a “domestic incident.”
Yin Yin explains, “The police lied. Twenty seconds before the police came into his room, he was sitting by his bed with a bottle—not a knife. When they opened the door, they asked, ‘Are you okay?’ and then killed him before he even had a chance to answer. It all happened within seconds. Kyaw didn’t make a sound. If he threw a weight, I would have heard and seen it.”
In the two hours before the IIO arrived, Yin Yin and her brother heard the police banging against the walls of the house. She suspects they put a dent in the wall and located the tiny paring knife that Kyaw had in his room to peel apples to try to make it seem like he was a threat to them. When the Dins finally saw Kyaw’s body, there were cuts in his left palm, that they believe the police made to support their claims that he had a knife. Reflecting on it a month later, Yin Yin said she’s convinced that police fabricated their story. “It was a plot by the police,” she said, “There was not a single reason to kill him.”
“We never would have come here”: The pressures of racism on immigrant communities
“I don’t trust the police,” said Hla Shwe, one of Kyaw’s brothers. Hla Myaing explained, “If we had known this is what would happen to Kyaw in Canada, we never would have come here.”
The first and the last days of Kyaw’s life in Canada were marked by police violence and racism—first, by the CBSA agents who singled him out from the rest of his family and accused him of being an imposter, and lastly, by the Ridge Meadows RCMP officers who refused to wait for a translator, ignored the advice of the people who best knew how to care for Kyaw, and instead shot him three times.
Reflecting on how white officers killed her brother, Yin Yin asked, “If Kyaw were a white man, would they have murdered him? The police officer who shot my brother Kyaw did not serve and protect the public; he’s a coward, a cold-blooded murderer.”
When the Dins were finally let back into their home at 1am that night, they found Kyaw’s room upturned and the mattress and carpet of his room soaked in blood. What was already a profoundly traumatic death had been made all the more dehumanizing by the cold, unfeeling response of the police and ambulance officers who attended the day Kyaw was killed.
Yin Yin remembers crying in the driveway and hearing, just a few feet away, a group of ambulance workers and one police officer laughing and chatting. Hla Myaing asked them how they could be so happy, standing outside the Dins’ home with the Dins grieving in front of them.
“I live to get justice for my brother”
Reflecting on their family’s loss, Yin Yin said, “We cannot find words to express our immense pain and suffering deep down in our hearts for the irreplaceable loss of our beloved brother.” She finds it hard to live in the home she shared with Kyaw. His bloodstains are still in the carpet. Without him singing, playing music, and laughing to movies, Yin Yin says, “The house is dead, lifeless. Kyaw brought life to the home.”
Both sisters remember their mother Hnin Myaing Din saying that Kyaw was the best of all of her sons. He always helped out the family with laundry, cooking, and cleaning. “We lost the best brother,” said Yin Yin. Kyaw was someone who always put others first, felt deeply for marginalized and oppressed peoples, and cared for his aging parents when they were still alive. Yin Yin and Hla Myaing both describe Kyaw as a deeply generous, kind, loving, warm, and giving person.
Hla Myaing recalled Kyaw’s kindness in tears. A few years ago, after becoming diabetic due to a medication he was on, Kyaw received $18,000 as part of a class action suit. Kyaw used the money to pay off Hla Myaing’s credit card debt and gave the rest of the money to his father, Hla Din. After working two jobs for decades and struggling to make ends meet, Hla Myaing felt deeply moved by Kyaw’s gift.
A month after Kyaw’s death, the Din family struggles to make sense of his murder. The eldest Din sibling, Tin Maung Oo, was executed by the military regime in Burma in 1976 for political activism. Yin Yin explained that painful as it is, the family understands Tin’s death as a meaningful death, while Kyaw’s is senseless. Yin Yin stressed that Kyaw was only 5 feet 3 inches tall, couldn’t move quickly, and was weak and shaky due to medication. “Even murderers deserve fair trials rather than summary police executions,” said Yin Yin. “They could have easily handled him without using bullets. A taser would have been more than enough, or they could have used pepper spray.”
But tasers kill too. The Din family’s longing that the police had used a different weapon against Kyaw, when they should have used no weapon at all, speaks to the desperation of their grief. The stark reality is that whether or not police choose to refrain from violence in a given moment, the threat of violence is always there—a threat which is far more pronounced for poor, racialized, Indigenous people, and people in mental health distress.
“Sometimes I feel like my heart is stopping,” Yin Yin said, “I need to stop crying and do whatever I can to get justice for Kyaw. I live to get justice for my brother.”
When asked what justice looks like, the Din family is clear: they want the officer who shot Kyaw to be charged with first degree murder.
Mental health distress and police killings
Justice for Din is unlikely to come from the Independent Investigator’s Office (IIO). Over a month into the investigation, the IIO has still not confirmed which police officer killed Kyaw, which is unsurprising, given that police officers don’t even have to speak to IIO investigators. Nor has the Din family been told how long the investigation will take, or the identity of the officers involved in their brother’s murder.
A study by CBC found 461 incidents of people dying through encounters with the police between 2000 and 2017. Of all those incidents, only 18 deaths led to charges being laid against cops, and of those 18 cases, only two led to convictions.
Additionally, the report found that the vast majority of the people who died in police encounters had mental health or drug use issues. And it reports that the rate at which people die in the custody of or encounters with police has doubled over the past twenty years. But incredibly, neither the government nor the police track police-involved killings.
The Din family is not alone in the loss of their beloved brother. Like Kyaw, Phuong Na (Tony) Du, who was murdered by Vancouver Police in 2014, also had schizophrenia. And after Montreal police murdered Pierre Coriolan in 2017, his family similarly questioned why the police insisted on rushing to intervene in the situation, and why they failed to communicate with Pierre before fatally shooting him. After Ontario prison guards murdered Soleiman Faqiri in 2016, his family pointed out that what Soleiman needed was “a bed and a doctor,” highlighting the incongruity and danger of police responding to people with mental health problems. And in a familiar, self-serving move to protect themselves after killing both Nona McEwan and Randy Crosson earlier this year, the Surrey RCMP released a misleading statement, suggesting that one of their victims had shot the other.
As one of the latest victims of Canada’s racist police, Kyaw Din’s name joins a list that’s far too long. From a place of unimaginable grief, Din’s family is bravely demanding justice—they know that Kyaw’s death was a murder, perpetuated by an unaccountable and unjust policing system. Though his death may have been senseless, it could galvanize a movement not just for justice for Kyaw, but for an end to all police killings.