'We are going to hold their feet to the fire': Advocates want Loku inquest recommendations in place in 1 year

Members of Toronto's black community will be watching closely to ensure the recommendations made by a coroner's jury at the inquest into the fatal police shooting of Andrew Loku are implemented, say members of the Black Action Defence Committee.

Inquest jury recommends better police training, less lethal use of force

Andrew Loku, 45, was shot by police on July 5, 2015, after he refused to drop a hammer he was carrying. (Handout photo)

Advocates will be watching closely to ensure the recommendations made by a coroner's jury at the inquest into the fatal police shooting of Andrew Loku are implemented, they said Friday — nearly two years after the man's death.

Lawyer Selwyn Pieters, a member of the Black Action Defence Committee, told reporters the group wants to see implemented within one year all 39 recommendations, which were read aloud by coroner John Carlisle on Friday, along with those of an ongoing police oversight review by Justice Michael Tulloch.

Their 39 recommendations include:

  • Training police on implicit bias and anti-black racism.
  • Collecting race-based data, to be made public, and funding research to analyze the data.
  • Equipping police cars with less lethal means of force, including shields and helmets.
  • Allowing front-line officers to be equipped with Tasers.
  • Additional training for 911 operators to elicit more information during a call that can help aid in de-escalation.  

"There's advocacy in the court and there's street advocacy," Pieters said.

"You've seen Black Lives Matter were outside of police headquarters for two weeks to get this Loku inquest. I'm sure they'll be watching this inquest with interest and they will respond appropriately if the recommendations aren't implemented. They fought for this."

"We are going to hold their feet to the fire," fellow BADC member Kingsley Gilliam said.

Some advocates, such as lawyer Howard Morton, aren't prepared to wait that long, however, saying some of the recommendations could go into effect as early as next week.

Morton represents the mental health centre Across Boundaries, which executive director Aseefa Sarang said had worked with Loku for nine years. The organization will be holding a news conference on July 5, the anniversary of Loku's death, to discuss a plan to ensure how it will push for the recommendations to be implemented.

Following the inquest, Toronto Mayor John Tory thanked the jury for its work on coming up with the de-escalation recommendations. He said the city would have to consult the public on the greater use of Tasers, "because that's not something for which there's a consensus."

"I think that the most important part is to take account of the fact that there are people who have mental health illness and who need to be treated in a very sensitive way, and that we really do all the training we can — both on matters that relate to anti-black racism … but also on mental health issues and how to de-escalate tense situations."

Shooting deemed a 'homicide'

On Friday, the fatal police shooting of Andrew Loku was deemed a "homicide" by the jury members sitting in on a nearly month-long coroner's inquest into the Toronto man's death. 

Friday's ruling is not a criminal one, as the Loku family's lawyer Jonathan Shime explained outside of the inquest Friday. Homicide simply means a death was the result of someone's action.

The ruling followed a month-long inquest into Loku's death to determine the events that led up to it and to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths from occurring. 

Loku, 45, was shot and killed in the hallway of his apartment building in the early hours of July 5, 2015. 

Officer reacted quickly to threat

Const. Andrew Doyle and his partner, Const. Haim Queroub, were responding to a call about a man with a hammer threatening to kill someone. Evidence shown during the inquest revealed that within 21 seconds of Loku turning toward the officers, Doyle had fired his weapon, killing the man.

Lawyer Selwyn Pieters told reporters that the group wants to see implemented within one year all 39 recommendations made by the coroner's jury. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

In March 2016, the Special Investigations Unit determined that Doyle would not face criminal charges. It found that Doyle, who admitted to having almost no experience interacting with black men, was justified in his use of force.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is an independent civilian law enforcement agency that investigates cases of death, serious injury or sexual assault involving police. 

Jury members heard testimony during the inquest that Loku, originally from South Sudan, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had a high level of alcohol in his system at the time of his death.

'We need to reduce that to zero'

Speaking to reporters afterward, Shime said he felt the recommendations can make a difference, but pointed out that Loku should not have had to die for them to be implemented. 

"To be frank, Andrew's not here, and this whole inquest was necessary because somebody died and children are now without their father and sisters are now without their brother," he said.

Rose Mono sobs, remembering her brother, Andrew Loku. She's comforted by her son, Mono Alam. (CBC)

Shime said he welcomed the opportunity to examine what led to Loku's death, saying that the inquest shone a light on the intersection between race and mental health.

"The reality is a disproportionate number of black men are dying at the hands of police, and it's time for that to stop. We need to reduce that to zero," said Shime.

Canadian Mental Health Association executive director Steve Lurie said he was pleased at both the content of the recommendations and their timing, pointing out that Friday's recommendations come at a time when the Officer of the Independent Police Review Director is undertaking a review of police interactions with people in crisis and use of force. 

'A wake-up call'

Lurie said Friday's recommendations build on previous inquest juries' recommendations about the need to de-escalate and avoid the use of force in situations where it's possible. 

Among the recommendations he's most looking forward to seeing implemented is de-escalation training.

"You have to pass a test on whether you know how to fire a gun, but you don't have to pass a test on whether you know how to de-escalate," Lurie said. 

In fairness to police, he said, there were 158 instances of use of force in the past year or so, compared with 250,000 interactions with people with emotional difficulties, most of which, he said, end safely. 

"I think this though is a wake-up call to say we have to worry as much about the one per cent as we do about 99 per cent," Lurie said.

As the coroner dismissed the jury, people in the courtroom applauded their efforts. 


Makda Ghebreslassie

CBC Toronto reporter

Makda is a CBC Video-Journalist, who from time to time fills in as TV news anchor and a newsreader on Here and Now and Fresh Air. She worked in newsrooms in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor before moving back home to Toronto.

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp