Barry Shantz in 2015 in front of a homeless camp in Abbotsford. (Photo credit: Abbotsford News files)

Lytton man killed by police was well-known homeless advocate

Barry Shantz won landmark court ruling for the homeless in 2015

A Lytton man killed by police earlier this month is the same person who, in 2015, won a landmark victory for homeless people, when he went ahead with a charter challenge on behalf of homeless Abbotsford residents.

Barry Shantz was killed following a standoff at his Lytton home on Jan. 13. He spoke to a 9-1-1 operator two hours before his death, asking to be shot by Mounties, according to an RCMP affidavit.

READ MORE: One man dead after police-involved shooting near Lytton

Shantz spent 15 years in prison in the U.S. after being convicted on charges of marijuana trafficking, and people close to him said that serving the lengthy sentence had left him traumatized and with severe PTSD. Shantz is also reported to have suffered from other mental health issues.

After his deportation, he became a grassroots organizer and advocate for drug users and the homeless, particularly in the Fraser Valley. In 2014 he successfully lobbied Abbotsford council to repeal a city bylaw that prevented needle distribution and other harm reduction services.

Shantz was a co-founder of a peer-support group called the B.C.–Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors. In 2015, he and the association challenged the constitutionality of the treatment of homeless people and their displacement from Abbotsford parks by city staff and police; a challenge which was ultimately successful.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruling gave people the right to sleep overnight in city parks if no shelter beds were available in the community, and led other municipalities around the province to amend their bylaws as well.

“Barry was a complex man who leaves behind a very complicated legacy in Abbotsford,” says Jesse Wegenest, a pastor at 5 and 2 Ministries, who had worked with Shantz during his activism. “He was a man of great intensity. That often alienated people around him. But at the same time he had a heart that longed for justice.”

The police affidavit states that Lytton RCMP responded to Shantz’s home on McIntyre Road at about 8:15 a.m. on Jan. 13 after his wife called police to say her husband was “playing with a gun”.

The woman told a dispatcher that Shantz was suicidal, and said that she and her 19-year-old daughter were hiding in separate bedrooms, but neither could escape because their windows were frozen shut.

Shantz’s wife told police he was attempting to draw attention to “corruption of the system”, including drugs and First Nations incarceration. She said he told her he was waiting for 100 police officers and media to arrive.

According to the document, Shantz emerged from the home when police arrived and fired one shot from a shotgun in the direction of police. The responding officers took cover and the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) was dispatched, arriving three hours later and surrounding Shantz’s home.

Both Shantz’s wife and her daughter left the home without incident at about 10:15 a.m.

At about noon, the document states, Shantz phoned 9-1-1 and told the operator he planned to walk outside “and requested police shoot him six times into his body and will walk towards the police officers with his shotgun.” He walked out of his home holding a 12-gauge shotgun at 2:05 p.m. and was shot while standing on his patio, according to the affidavit.

“At 2:10 p.m., specially trained medics with ERT approached to render first aid to Shantz,” the document reads. “No vital signs were detected and medics began first aid and chest compressions. Shantz was declared deceased shortly thereafter.”

The shooting is being investigated by B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office, a watchdog agency tasked with examining the circumstances surrounding incidents in which actions by police in B.C. result in the serious injury or death of a civilian.

With files by Kamloops This Week

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