5 key cases of police shooting deaths involving mentally ill individuals

The Mental Health Commission of Canada released a series of recommendations Wednesday aimed at improving how police forces interact with people with mental health issues in order to avoid some of the tragic outcomes that have occurred in recent years. We take a look at some of the key cases that inspired the review.

Mental Health Commission of Canada releases recommendations on improving police interactions

There have been several high-profile incidents involving people with mental health issues who died in interactions with police. The incidents have resulted in public outrage and a call for change in policing practices. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

The Mental Health Commission of Canada released a series of recommendations Wednesday aimed at improving how police forces interact with people with mental health issues in order to avoid some of the tragic outcomes that have occurred in recent years.

The commission's review came out of several controversial cases in which individuals with mental health problems died in confrontations with police officers.

Here is a review of some of the cases that have prompted debate about the issue.

Sammy Yatim

A group of neighbours and activists held a vigil and retraced the last steps of Michael Eligon, shot by police. (Ivy Cuervo/CBC)
Eighteen-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot nine times by Toronto police last year after police responded to a call about a person with a knife aboard a streetcar near in the city's west end.

The incident, which occurred just after midnight on July 27, 2013, was captured on surveillance and cellphone video. 

Const. James Forcillo has been charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder in the shooting.

Yatim’s family has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services board, Chief Bill Blair and three officers.

Michael Eligon

Michael Eligon, 29, was killed Feb. 3, 2012, after fleeing from Toronto East General Hospital, where he had been involuntarily admitted under the Mental Health Act.

He was dressed in a hospital gown and armed with two pairs of scissors he tried to steal at a nearby convenience store, the Special Investigations Unit said in its report on Eligon's shooting.

After the store owner confronted Eligon, he cut the owner's left hand with the scissors, prompting the owner to call 911. Police officers in the area were notified about a suspect getting stabbed by a patient who fled the hospital.

Eligon later demanded car keys from two different women and police responded to the call about a carjacking.

When Eligon later tried breaking into two homes, a dozen officers drove to the area and repeatedly demanded Eligon drop the scissors in his hand. As he moved toward police, one of the officers shot him.

Sylvia Klibingaitis

Sylvia Klibingaitis, a mentally ill 52-year-old woman, made a 911 call in October 2011 telling the operator she wanted to kill her mother because she was "pure evil."

Klibingaitis told the operator that she was being treated for mental illness and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

When officers went to her house, she walked toward police with a knife in her hand in what Ontario's Special Investigations Unit described as a threatening manner.

She did not drop the knife in response to officers' demands and when she moved closer, she was shot.

The SIU called her death a "tragic event" but said the officer involved was justified in using lethal force under the circumstances.

Robert Dziekanski 

Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, was killed by four RCMP officers in October 2007 at the Vancouver International Airport.

Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant, died after being Tasered by four RCMP officers in 2007. The incident was captured on amateur video. (submitted by Paul Pritchard)
​Dziekanski, 40, who did not speak English and had spent 20 hours in transit by the time he arrived in Vancouver, became agitated after spending more than nine hours wandering in the airport arrivals area trying to find his mother, who was supposed to meet him at the airport.

He was confronted by four Mounties and picked up a stapler, at which point the officers stunned him several times with a Taser.

The incident was captured on amateur video, which fuelled public anger and prompted the government to order a public inquiry into the event headed by former justice Thomas Braidwood.

British Columbia's Coroners Service ruled the death a homicide but did not allocate any blame.

Paul Boyd

Paul Boyd, a mentally ill illustrator from Vancouver, was shot eight times — including once in the head— by Const. Lee Chipperfield of the Vancouver police on Aug. 13, 2007.

According to witness accounts, Boyd was initially calm when officers arrived but became increasingly hostile, allegedly assaulting officers with a lock on a chain.

Initial reports suggested that the fatal shot was fired after another officer on the scene had instructed Chipperfield to cease firing and disarmed Boyd.

A video that captured the final moments of Boyd's life, including the last three shots fired by Chipperfield, shed light on the incident.

The evidence prompted the Criminal Justice Branch to hand the case over to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team for external review. No formal criminal charges were brought against the police officer.