Family of man gunned down by police calls proposed reforms 'encouraging,' but awaits concrete change

The family of a man who was killed by police in the midst of a possible psychological episode says they are encouraged after meeting with Ontario over proposed updates to de-escalation training.

The family of Michael MacIsaac has called for police officers to receive mandatory de-escalation training

Michael and Marianne MacIsaac on their wedding day.
Michael MacIsaac, seen here in his wedding photo, was fatally shot by police during what his family has called a "psychological episode." (Supplied by MacIsaac family)

Ontario has promised to modernize and expand de-escalation training for police officers, though reform advocates say they won't celebrate until the proposed changes are finalized.

The updated approach will include a new emphasis on communication techniques, conflict resolution and mediation when dealing with a person in crisis. The province says it will also lengthen the mandatory de-escalation training at the Ontario Police College.

Further details of the plan were revealed on Monday to the family of Michael MacIsaac, who was killed by Durham Regional Police in the midst of what his family has called an epilepsy-related psychological episode.

"It was positive and I'm happy that after four long years that we actually got to sit down and be a part of this process," said Joanne MacIsaac, the sister of Michael.

Her brother was shot dead by a police officer after he was found running naked through an Ajax neighbourhood while wielding a metal table leg in December 2013.

A coroner's inquest later heard Const. Brian Taylor fired on MacIsaac 12 seconds after exiting his cruiser. MacIsaac was 47 at the time of his death.

Joanne MacIsaac, sister of Michael MacIsaac shot by police in Dec. 2013 speaks at Queen's Park calling on Ontario’s Attorney General to ensure all police receive thorough training. (Oliver Walters/CBC News)

In the years since, MacIsaac's family has been pressuring the Ontario government to make de-escalation training mandatory for all police officers in the province.

Joanne MacIsaac said she was "dumbfounded" when she learned the officer who shot her brother had not received that type of training.

"I hear from a lot of families and this continues to happen," she added. "This needs to stop."

Details unclear

While the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services shared some aspects of its revamped de-escalation plan with Joanne MacIsaac and her lawyer at Monday's meeting, it has not publicly revealed specifics of the proposal.

"We had fruitful conversations with them today to see that they are actually moving on the right path and looking at this seriously," said Alan Young, MacIsaac's lawyer and the director of The Innocence Project at Osgoode Hall.

Young has previously threatened a constitutional challenge against the province over the lack of mandatory de-escalation training, but says he'll now hold off, at least until the province reveals its full plan.

Alan Young, director of The Innocence Project, says the province has a constitutional obligation to improve de-escalation training. (Aizick Grimman/CBC)

"As an opening gambit, of course I am pleased," he said. "But the proof is in the pudding, and we'll see over the next few months what the government actually does."

Young says he plans to meet with the province again within two to three weeks to determine if he'll proceed with legal action.

Policing 'fundamentally changed'

In an email to CBC Toronto, the province says it has recognized that policing has "fundamentally changed" due to increasing interactions with vulnerable individuals, including those with mental health issues or in crisis.

Ontario says its new approach will expand on de-escalation training already in place and lengthen the mandatory de-escalation training already in place at the province's police college.

"We are committed to ensuring that de-escalation is central to police response to those in crisis, and that police officers have the necessary tools to defuse crisis situations," wrote ministry spokesperson Dorijan Najdovski.

The MacIsaac family and The Innocence Project have called on the province to enshrine those changes in the Police Services Act, which Ontario has not yet done.

While Joanne MacIsaac called Monday's meeting "encouraging," she said that goodwill will be erased if the province does not follow through.

"It's all quite preliminary so until there's something concrete, no, it doesn't help," she said.

Ontario has committed to sweeping changes to the act as part of its Strategy for a Safer Ontario, though mandatory de-escalation training is not among the proposed changes.