Mistaken identity leads to arrest of autistic Nanaimo man: ‘He can’t comply, he can’t hear’


Tying her son’s shoes on Friday, Laura Langstaff smiled at the grown man before her and walked him through his highly structured day to come.

“You’re going to go see Jason, you’re going to do your work,” Langstaff said to her son in the family’s Nanaimo home.

The mom quietly hoped he would come back to her safely because her son Mischa, who she describes as “loving and patient,” is 46, non-verbal and severely autistic, and an incident just outside their Hammond Bay Road front door has shaken her confidence in his safety.

“What it did was cause panic in me on so many levels,” said Laura Langstaff, a Nanaimo resident and mother of four.

It happened on May 20, 2021, when RCMP were called to the Rock City Plaza for a fatal gangland-style shooting of a man in a BMW. Witnesses described the fleeing suspect vehicle as a white Cadillac Escalade.

“Mischa just happened to be being driven home by his caregiver in a white Escalade,” said Langstaff.

So when the two pulled up to Langstaff’s door, she said so did police, who were shouting at her son, who is the developmental equivalent of a three-year-old.

“A guy with a long rifle shouting, ‘We don’t want to shoot you. Show me your hands, show me your hands,'” recalled Langstaff.

“So I was running down the stairs rehearsing how quickly I could say what I had to say to save him. Hoping he wouldn’t slap his head or reach down,” she said.

According to Langstaff, it took 30 minutes before Mischa and his caregiver were released, and the mistaken identity was acknowledged.

“That Mischa won’t show his hands. He can’t comply, he can’t hear,” she said.

Now, a year and a half later, she said she’s still waiting to hear that this case has informed future RCMP training.

“They need to have different training,” said Langstaff.

“People who are neurodivergent are assets to their communities, not liabilities,” she said.

Nanaimo RCMP would not comment on this case. But a similar arrest of a person with autism in Alberta last October has prompted the Complaints Commission for the RCMP to review how officers are trained to deal with neurodiverse people.

It comes as Langstaff prepares her son each day for a community that she hopes he’ll be safe in.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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