Neo-Nazi sympathizer fatally shot by Nanaimo police didn't fire flare gun, probe told

July 25, 2011

A neo-Nazi sympathizer who was shot and killed by Nanaimo RCMP last fall was armed with a flare gun but did not fire his weapon as he approached police officers who had surrounded his house, a coroner's inquest into the man's death heard Monday.

"There is no evidence that a flare gun was discharged at the scene," Victoria police Detective Michelle Robertson told the coroner's jury, adding that emergency response team members who removed the man's lifeless body from the scene "found him still with [the flare gun]in the palm of his hand."

Jeffrey Hughes, 48, died in a hail of police gunfire on Oct. 23, 2009, about 90 minutes after the manager of his Selby Street apartment block told 911 dispatchers that Mr. Hughes was armed and talking about shooting police.

Police arrived on the scene around 5:45 a.m., set up a perimeter around the building and began evacuating neighbours from their homes. Efforts to contact police negotiators and the regional crisis response team were not immediately successful.

Recordings of police dispatch and 911 calls played in court Monday indicate that police stationed outside the building in the predawn darkness could see Mr. Hughes brandishing what they believed was a handgun, turning the lights off and on inside his apartment, pacing back and forth, and looking out the window.

As Mr. Hughes emerged from his apartment around 6:56 a.m. and began walking down a long, outdoor corridor outside his apartment, one of the officers in charge, Constable Sean Ziegler, told officers via police radio "we've got a green light, we've got a green light you guys."

Another officer can be heard saying "Oh, he's going toward the members on the street," and seconds later the recording is interrupted by the sound of gunfire.

Following the shooting, Mr. Hughes's links to neo-Nazism were confirmed by Harold Covington, a prominent white supremacist in the United States whose radical vision includes the creation of an "Aryan homeland" in the Pacific Northwest.

Mr. Covington said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail that "Comrade" Jeff Hughes "was murdered, gunned down outside his home by the RCMP."

The B'nai Brith Society of Canada, which keeps track of individuals who promote racial hatred, said Mr. Hughes had been on the society's radar for several years.

Mr. Hughes was also a dedicated volunteer with the Georgia Strait Alliance, although staff at the environmental group said they were unaware of his extreme political views.

Among those attending Monday's proceeding was Paul Fromm of the Canadian Association for Freedom of Expression, a group that "believes freedom of expression is essential to any functioning democracy." The association's website features an outdated message calling for the release of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel from prison in Germany. Mr. Zundel was set free in March, 2010, after serving a five-year sentence for inciting hatred.

Mr. Fromm said he met Mr. Hughes twice, once in 2006 and again on Thanksgiving weekend of 2009 in Victoria when the two were attending a freedom of speech event known as the George Orwell dinner.

"I was just flabbergasted that he got shot. He had some strong political views that were fairly well known. I want to know if his views had anything to do with him being shot," said Mr. Fromm.

Controversial Victoria lawyer Doug Christie, who defended Ernst Zundel on charges of spreading hatred in Canada, is representing Mr. Hughes's brother Russell at the inquiry.

Court heard that Mr. Hughes lay motionless near the gates to his apartment block for more than 20 minutes while police determined whether it was safe to move in.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Editor's note: Jeffrey Hughes died on Oct. 23, 2009, incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story. This version has been corrected.

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