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‘We are living a nightmare’: Grieving parents of man slain by police speak out for the first time

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Noam Cohen, left, is seen at a wedding with his mother, Rachel, just hours before he died. (Courtesy the Cohen family)

Rachel Cohen shows a photo of herself sitting with her son, Noam, as they gaze at each other lovingly and enjoy a quiet moment after a family wedding.

“Two-and-a-half hours later, Noam was dead,” says his father, Jacob Cohen.

“We are living a nightmare,” says Rachel. “We wake up with it, and we go to bed with it.”

In the wee hours of June 15, 2017, Noam, 27, was fatally shot by police in a deserted industrial area in the Montreal borough of Lachine, following a short, high-speed car chase from Côte-St-Luc.

More than a year later, his devastated parents still have not been able to find out exactly what happened that night. They have no satisfactory answer as to why police shot their son, after he fled from them in his sports utility vehicle.

They have kept silent until now, but revealed to The CJN that they are traumatized and angry because they feel as though the police mishandled a minor domestic incident, which resulted in the death of their son. They have little confidence that justice will be done for Noam, who was unarmed at the time.

READ: POLICE SHOOTING OF JEWISH MAN INVESTIGATED IN QUEBEC

The matter was immediately referred to the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), an agency created by the Ministry of Public Security in 2016 to take the investigation of police shootings out of the hands of police departments.

In February, the BEI submitted its final report to the Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales (DPCP), or public prosecutions department. The DPCP will decide if there was any wrongdoing on the part of the police.

The family does not know when the DPCP will make a pronouncement. “We’ve only been told we are next in line, but what does that mean?” Jacob asks.

The full BEI report was not made public, even to the Cohens. Only small sections of it have been released. It does state that Noam was brought to a halt after he ran the SUV into a fence and police fired when he did not surrender, fearing he would reverse rapidly, although the wording is ambiguous.

The Cohens – who were joined by their son, Yvon, 30, in this interview – say the coroner found two bullets in Noam’s head. At least eight other bullet marks were on the vehicle, said Yvon Cohen, as his father shows photos of it.

On the evening of June 14, 2017, Noam, his parents and four siblings attended a wedding at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Feeling tired, Jacob went home earlier than the others.

(2010 Legal Observers/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Noam was in good spirits, according to his family. He had consumed alcohol, but his brothers deemed him able to drive. His happy mood soured after he got home and discovered some damage to his vehicle. “It was nothing major, but his car was very important to him,” says Yvon.

When Noam became more angry and “nervous,” his father woke up. Fearing his son would drive off and get in an accident, he called 911 around 1:40 a.m.

Four police cruisers came to the Côte-St-Luc home on the corner of Wolseley Avenue and Wavell Road, but none of them were from the local precinct, Station 9, according to Jacob.

Noam had a brush with the law some years earlier and had been on probation for three years. “He didn’t like the police,” his brother says. But Station 9 knew him, and the family believes officers from there would not have reacted as aggressively.

Noam was behind the wheel, barefoot and wearing only underwear when the police arrived. Both his parents were on the street, pleading with the police not to give chase, telling them that he just needed time to cool off.

“But the police were pumped up, they were looking for action,” says Yvon.

We are living a nightmare.
– Rachel Cohen

According to the BEI, Noam refused their orders to get out and sped off. He headed to nearby Westminster Avenue and the family thinks he may have headed to the Breslev Centre. He had become a devotee of the Orthodox group in recent years and went every day, his family says. He also travelled twice a year to the Ukrainian city of that name, the seat of a famous branch of Hasidism.

The chase came to its deadly end barely 10 km away on St-Joseph Boulevard.

The Cohens immigrated to Montreal from Israel in 1980. Jacob says they left because he did not want his children to risk their lives in the army.

At 27, Noam was getting his life together, they say. He had a high school education from Yéchiva Yavné, but had not been good at conventional study. Yet, as an adult, he proved to be an avid learner on his own, not only when it came to religion, but also science and other subjects, his mother says.

At the Breslev Centre, he had found purpose. He had worked only “sporadically” until then, but had plans. “On the day he died, we had an appointment at a bank at 10 to a talk about starting a business importing food from Ukraine,” says Jacob.

Rachel added that her son hoped to marry in the next year or two. He had plenty of friends and was a kind person who would help anyone, she says. He had a temper and was afraid of no one, but was not violent, they all insist.

If this had been in the black community, there would be demonstrations.
– Jacob Cohen

The parents show photos and videos of a husky, ruggedly good-looking fellow. He is smiling and joking. In a musical recording, he dances and raps to impart a lesson about Judaism.

The entire family has faced a heavy burden as a result of his death. Jacob says he closed his wholesale kosher bakery because he cannot work anymore. He saw a psychiatrist for four months after his son’s death and Rachel continues to receive therapy at the Jewish General Hospital.

Jacob can barely contain his fury and struggles daily to keep it in check.

He has conducted his own investigation, exhaustively going over the scene of his son’s death, trying to reconstruct what happened and, most importantly, why.

While friends have been supportive, the family feels abandoned by the wider Jewish community. “If this had been in the black community, there would be demonstrations,” says Jacob.