Sammy Yatim killing: Report on lethal force by police out today

A former Supreme Court of Canada justice will report today on his investigation into the use of lethal force by Toronto police sparked by the killing of a disturbed teenager on an empty streetcar last summer.
The fatal shooting of Sammy Yatim, 18, was stirred debate about police use of force. (CBC)

A former Supreme Court of Canada justice reports today on his investigation into the use of lethal force by Toronto police sparked by the killing of a disturbed teenager on an empty streetcar last summer.

Frank Iacobucci's report comes amid a lawsuit by the family of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim against the officer who shot him and another who tasered him as he lay dying.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair asked the former justice last August to take a broad look at how officers interact with people in crisis and to come up with recommendations.

Among other things, the report analyzes ways of reducing the use of lethal force by police — especially when it comes to responding to calls involving people with emotional or mental difficulties that may require urgent care or put themselves or others at risk of harm.

In all, the report has 84 recommendations covering a wide area ranging from training and policies to equipment, supervision and oversight.

The provincial Police Services Act required Blair to do a review after police gunned down Yatim on a streetcar. In a rare such prosecution, Const. James Forcillo was also charged with second-degree murder.

However, Blair opted for "extraordinary" review beyond Yatim's case to include several other fatal police shootings in recent years along with a look at international best practices.

"There's an overwhelming recognition this is important," Blair said of the review.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Toronto in two marches after Yatim's death, which was captured on surveillance and cellphone videos.

Nine shots could be heard on the videos following police shouts for Yatim to drop a small fold-up knife he was carrying. The final six shots appeared to come after Yatim had already fallen backwards to the floor of the streetcar.

Fired nine shots

In a lawsuit filed with Ontario Superior Court last October, Yatim's mother and sister are seeking more than $7 million from Forcillo, the police services board and two other officers.

According to the lawsuit — which is not proven and to which no defence has been filed — Forcillo fired at Yatim in the early hours of July 27, 2013. At the time, Yatim was alone on the streetcar, which was surrounded by about 20 officers.

In all, Forcillo fired nine shots, hitting Yatim eight times, the suit states.

"After Sammy had been mortally wounded and lay defenceless on the floor of the streetcar, Officer John Doe fired his Taser into Sammy," the suit alleges.

What should have been obvious to the responding officers was that Yatim was suffering from "an emotional disturbance," the suit states.

The plaintiffs allege Yatim never approached the officers or tried to leave the streetcar, and Forcillo shot and killed him either "without justification or excuse" or was reckless and negligent in doing so.

Police spokesman Mark Pugash would not comment on the suit and said no statement of defence had been filed.

Forcillo is expected to stand trial next year. He was released on $510,000 bail and is currently working with Crime Stoppers.