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Here's where to find the latest news on the Sammy Yatim shooting.

Listen to an interview with Helen Slinger on The Current.

Can we trust our police? Metro Morning talks with Jennifer Chambers from CAMH.

We see them streaming into our homes on YouTube almost every week: lethal encounters between police and the mentally ill. This film deconstructs those deadly scenarios with a view to find the sweet spot – where police can be trained to hold their fire

While the number of police-involved shootings per capita remained fairly static between 2004- 2014, the percentage of those cases involving people in mental crisis grew – now accounting for about 40% of civilian shooting deaths at the hands of police.

As Canada keeps no reliable record of police shootings, documentary producer Bountiful Films went through inquest records province by province to expose what they believe is a very conservative tally.  (See stats below and read a news story here.)

The Stats

In 2014, Toronto police handled 20,000 interactions; Vancouver police, 30,000.

1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness.

People in mental health crisis account for 40% of civilian shooting deaths by police

The average frontline police officer in North America faces more interactions with people in crisis than ever before. As the number of interactions skyrockets, police services struggle to deal with an ever-growing population of emotionally disturbed individuals who often lack adequate social supports. The numbers are different but the story is the same across the country. In 2014, Toronto police answered 20,000 interactions with people in crisis. Vancouver police say they respond to nearly 30,000 calls each year involving mental illness.

The growth in numbers can be attributed to three factors: better statistics, economic crisis driving more people into emotional crisis, and our society’s failure to keep up with the demand for community mental health resources - a demand partly created by the movement to de-institutionalize mental illness. Police have become de facto frontline mental health workers.

But the numbers are the background noise, the radio static behind the gunshots. While police are kept hopping with calls involving mental illness, the tragedies often have little to do with lack of social support and much more to do with decades of North American police training that taught officers to go in fast and big.

This approach is absolutely counterproductive when dealing with someone in the throes of an emotional crisis, someone who may, for instance, be hearing voices. Couple this traditional command-and-control response with edged weapon training and the result can be lethal. Edged weapon training essentially teaches officers to consider any situation involving a knife or scissors or a bicycle chain as automatically a firearms situation. And as U.K. Assistant Chief Constable Paul Netherton says, “Once you’ve deployed the weapon, actually are you creating a situation where someone being shot is what’s going to happen?”

Scene from the film: Paul Boyd was shot by Vancouver Police in 2007.

Dozens of Canadian families have lost a loved one in a police shooting. Hold Your Fire reveals who some of these people really were, aside from their illness and the tragedy that ended their lives.

  •  Jackie Christopher’s son O’Brien Christopher-Reid was a chemical engineering student at Ryerson University in Toronto before he began suffering from paranoid delusions. Brien, as his mom calls him, was somehow still holding down a job in the summer of 2004 when his life abruptly ended – within three minutes of coming into contact with Toronto Police. After the inquest into Brien’s death, his mom received a courier package, almost certainly containing the clothes he was wearing when he died. She can’t bear to open it, or to throw it out, so she keeps it for her younger son, who still dreams of his big brother.
  • Paul Boyd’s struggle with mental illness also began in his college years. But Boyd managed to make his way into animation school and out into a stellar career, working on notable productions like Gary Larson’s Tales from the Farside and Bruce Alcock’s At the Quinte Hotel (watch the film). He was known in the animation world for both his creativity and his ability to solve tough technical problems. Paul likely came by this ability quite naturally, as the son of a University of British Columbia math professor.

    David BoydDavid Boyd
    In Paul’s last notebook, returned to his father after the inquest, David Boyd finds evidence that his son was out on the street on the night of his death, looking for medical help. Frustrated that clinics were closed, and aware his condition was worsening, Paul was shouting at strangers, and police were erroneously called to an assault in progress. There was no assault and Paul wasn’t initially hostile to police. Still, it went off the rails very quickly and Paul Boyd was shot two and a half minutes after coming into contact with police.
  • Transplanted to southern Ontario from Newfoundland, the MacIsaac clan stayed close and 47-year-old Michael was its heart and soul, quick with the jokes and always taking time for his nieces and nephews. Michael suffered from seizures, the result of a childhood brain injury, and that’s what drove him out his front door in December 2013, naked in zero degree weather. He told one motorist he was heading for his mom’s, 70 kilometres away. There were several calls to 911 and seconds after police arrived on scene, Michael was on the ground, bleeding to death from a gunshot wound. The scene was captured on video.
Listen to an interview with director Helen Slinger on Metro Morning.

Hold Your Fire explores the reasons why officers who signed on to serve and protect somehow end up shooting a vulnerable person. The documentary looks at how police training and response to people in crisis went off track, and shows how progressive police forces, from Rialto, California to Leicester, U.K., are striving to get onto a better path. We travel with Canadian police mobile teams to calls involving people in emotional crisis, and meet a Hamilton mental health worker who responds to 911 calls and is quite possibly the only civilian in Canada to ever send home the tactical team.

Scene from the film: UK police disarm distraught man with a machete

Hold Your Fire takes a thoughtful look at a tough subject - one of critical importance, since 1 in 5 Canadian will experience mental illness.

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