Ontario calls inquest into police shooting death of Andrew Loku

Ontario has called an inquest into the death of Andrew Loku, whose fatal shooting by a Toronto police officer last July helped fuel the Black Lives Matter protests across the city.

Toronto's Black Lives Matter organizers says inquest 'has been a long time coming'

Andrew Loku, 45, was shot by police after he refused to drop a hammer he was carrying. (Handout photo)

Ontario has called an inquest into the death of Andrew Loku, whose fatal shooting by a Toronto police officer last July helped fuel the Black Lives Matter protests across the city.

"The inquest will examine the events surrounding Mr. Loku's death," read a statement Wednesday from the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. "The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths."

Details about the timing and location of the inquest will be released at a later date, the ministry said.

Organizers of the Toronto Black Lives Matter movement applauded the news.

"We are finally seeing some concrete action from our province," Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Toronto, said in a statement. 

"This is a major victory for Loku's family and community, and has been a long time coming.…This is a step in the right direction."

Loku, 45, was shot around midnight last July 5 in the third-floor hallway of an apartment complex near Rogers Road and Caledonia Road, in the city's west end. He had refused to comply with police demands to drop a hammer he was holding and threatened to kill a friend of a guest in the apartment.

The officer who shot Loku and a second officer had entered the building and confronted Loku, with guns drawn, in the hallway.

Loku's death set off a firestorm of controversy and prompted Toronto's Black Lives Matter coalition to call for charges to be laid against the officers involved in the shooting. The group also wanted the officers to be identified and video footage of the incident to be made public.

In March, the province's Special Investigations Unit, which probes police interactions with the public that lead to injury or death, announced that the officer who fired the shot would not be charged.

In announcing that decision, SIU director Tony Loparco said he was satisfied "that the subject officer fired his weapon believing it to be necessary to thwart an imminent hammer attack and that the officer's apprehensions in this regard were reasonable."

The SIU decision led to further protests, including a march on Toronto police headquarters and a vigil that lasted several days.

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said Wednesday that calling an inquest into the death of a civilian in police custody is "standard operating practice." Loku was not in police custody.

"It's usually not announced this quickly, so I don't know if it's a political decision or not," McCormack told CBC News.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday that she only learned of the inquest when it was announced, and denied that it was called to gain favour with protesters.

"There is no political control over what the coroner's office does or doesn't do," Wynne told CBC New Network's Power & Politics

The Office of the Chief Coroner "operates at arm's length from the ministry and is completely independent from government," including making decisions to hold inquests, a spokesperson for the ministry told CBC News.

'Looking for clarification'

Meanwhile, late Tuesday, McCormack sent a letter to police association members warning them to be vigilant about what he called "the new climate" toward policing at Queen's Park and Toronto City Hall.

Last week, Wynne told Black Lives Matter protesters that there is "systemic racism in our society" and agreed to hold private and public meetings with the group about its demands, which include a review of the SIU.

That meeting is still being arranged.

On April 1, city council voted unanimously in favour of a motion that asks the province to review police services in Toronto and the SIU through "an anti-black racism lens."

On Wednesday, McCormack said he is seeking clarification on that language. 

"We think that's a subjective test and we're not clear on what that would look like and we need answers on that, as well," McCormack said.

Asked what prompted him to send his message to members, he replied, "There is an overwhelming sense of frustration with our members now. Clearly the political climate has shifted as far as the condemnation and vilification of police officers, and they're very frustrated right now."

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said he hasn't read the letter, but that his officers "will do what they need to do to keep the community safe."

On charges of racism in the force, Saunders said the Toronto Police Service is "the most diverse" in North America. He pointed to extensive training officers receive on issues ranging from implicit bias when policing to using simulators to practice interactions with various members of the community.

"Anyone that is not informed on what we do from a training component to make sure we are inclusive in what we do should, I think, really review what we do first, have an understanding of it, and then comment," he said.

Black Lives Matter reiterates demands

In his statement, Diverlus reiterated his organization's demands, which include:

  • The immediate release of the name or names of the officer or officers involved in the shooting, and for "charges to be laid accordingly."
  • The immediate release of video footage from the apartment complex where Loku died.
  • "An overhaul" of the SIU.
  • A commitment to fully end the practice of carding.

Regarding the calls to release the name of the officer who shot Loku, McCormack said he didn't know how that would bring clarity to the events of that night.