As Toronto police undertake a wide-ranging review of their policies — including use of force — in the wake of a fatal shooting, Chief Bill Blair says they will enlist a retired judge to help with the process.
At a Monday afternoon news conference, Blair said that Dennis O'Connor, the retired associate chief justice of Ontario, will assist in an administrative review that is taking place following the police shooting of Sammy Yatim on a TTC streetcar.
The death of the 18-year-old Yatim outraged many Torontonians and prompted hundreds of people to take part in a protest march.
The interaction between Yatim and police was captured on video and published online. Since then, the footage has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.
The officer who shot Yatim has been suspended from duty with pay. The shooting is being probed by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit.
"The SIU’s investigation remains a priority over all other inquiries," Blair said at the news conference. "The law is quite clear in preventing me from disclosing any information on the incident or the investigation."
Review required by law
Blair said that when the SIU’s mandate is invoked, he is required by law to undertake an administrative review of his force’s policies, procedures, training and equipment.
In this particular case, the police chief said he is seeking O’Connor’s help in undertaking "a very thorough, objective review …in order to ensure that we provide the best possible services to the people of Toronto."
O'Connor sat on the Ontario Court of Appeal for more than a decade. He also led a pair of high-profile public inquires.
Asked if the public reaction to Yatim’s death was the impetus behind bringing in outside expertise for the review, Blair said that there have been questions about the way police have handled a number of similar cases.
"I think there's a recognition over a number of incidences where there is concern among the public with respect to the use of force and our response to emotionally disturbed persons," Blair said.
And while the police chief said his force has made strides in improving its practices over the past decade, he believes that it is worth undertaking "a very comprehensive review."
Blair's late-afternoon news conference was announced less than two hours before it began at 4 p.m. The media had been informed the police chief would be making "a major announcement" regarding the Toronto Police Service's "use of force and response to emotionally disturbed persons."