A Toronto police officer has been charged with second-degree murder — the first time a member of the force has faced a murder charge for actions taken while on duty.
Crown prosecutors announced the charge against Const. David Cavanagh in a Toronto courtroom Thursday, after an investigation involving Ontario's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit.
Cavanagh had originally been charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of 26-year-old Eric Osawe in late 2010.
'Our membership and our police officers have, quite frankly, lost faith and confidence in the process and the system.' — Mike McCormack, Toronto Police Association
Osawe was shot in the early hours of Sept. 29, 2010, during a police search at a third-floor Etobicoke apartment near Dundas Street West and Kipling Avenue that led to the arrest of Osawe's younger brother, Ebony, on firearms-related offences.
The SIU alleges Cavanagh fatally shot Eric Osawe during that search, which was carried out by at least 15 officers from the Emergency Task Force and the guns and gangs squad. Osawe was taken to St. Michael's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The SIU, an independent civilian agency, investigates whenever a citizen is seriously injured or killed during incidents with police.
Crown lawyers Robert Morrison of Ottawa, and John McInnes of Toronto are prosecuting the case in Ontario Superior Court. They have been working closely with the SIU.
The murder charge implies the Crown believes there is evidence the accused intended to kill the victim. A homicide committed without intent to kill is considered manslaughter.
The head of the Toronto Police Association, the union that represents Cavanagh, says the union is outraged and he says the new charge is based on no new information.
"Our membership and our police officers have, quite frankly, lost faith and confidence in the process and the system, whether it's the SIU or the Crown's office who recommended these charges," Mike McCormack said.
Lawyer Julian Falconer, who is representing Osawe's family, said it's a "historic day" and he hopes the Crown prosecutes the case vigorously.
"My experience with these very serious and difficult cases relating to police accountability is they are grossly under-resourced and they are not treated the same way as other prosecutions …in terms of the resources the Ministry of the Attorney General puts into them. And when you put poor resources against an awesome defence team, the result is almost inevitable.
"Very competent Crown counsel are on this case, but resources have to be put into a case to make sure it is prosecuted property."
Cavanagh has been out on bail since being charged in December 2010 and remains suspended with pay. He was released on consent of the Crown Thursday.
The SIU said in a news release that a preliminary inquiry will start on Oct. 1.
Osawe's sister Esther read a statement Thursday on behalf of her family and she hopes justice will be served.
"I just want to say that my family is extremely relieved that the charges have been laid and that this will be going to trial."
Osawe left behind two children.
Cavanagh was in the public spotlight in 2005 for the armed takedown of two suspects who fled Yonge Street following the Boxing Day killing of teenager Jane Creba.
Cavanagh and three other officers helped secure arrests and the conviction of one of the accused in the Creba case.