TORONTO – The head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission is testifying at an inquest into the fatal police shootings of three mentally ill Toronto residents.
Barbara Hall says police need to better integrate training on how to deal with the mentally ill into their teachings on use of force and other tactics.
“We’re concerned when we see training that focuses on only one issue at a time,” she said. “The two need to be put together — what happens when using force against or towards people with mental health issues.”
The inquest has heard that when a police officer is faced with a person advancing with a sharp object, their response is based on the person’s behaviour and not their mental state.
But Hall said that in cases where a mental health issue is suspected, police forces should consider training their officers on how to respond to the person behind the weapon as well.
“We recommend more data, we recommend more training, we recommend exploring more options because we know that people with mental health issues are continuing to die in encounters with police officers.”
The province’s police watchdog cleared authorities of wrongdoing in all three cases being examined by the inquest, prompting calls for justice from the families of those killed.
Michael Eligon was 29 when he died in February 2012 after fleeing from a Toronto hospital dressed in a hospital gown and armed with two pairs of scissors.
Twenty-five-year-old Reyal Jardine-Douglas died in August 2010 after pulling a knife out of his bag and advancing on an officer on a public transit bus.
And 52-year-old Sylvia Klibingaitis called 911 herself in October 2011 — saying she was going to commit a crime — before she confronted officers with a knife in her hand.
The police officers who fired the shots that killed the three victims all told the inquest they had been scared for their lives at the time and using their guns had appeared to be the only option.