TORONTO – Toronto police will do everything they can to answer all the questions surrounding the “tragic” death of a young man shot by officers over the weekend, Chief Bill Blair said Monday.
Sammy Yatim, 18, was killed while he was on a city streetcar early Saturday morning following an altercation with police, an incident that was captured on video and has triggered a flood of public outrage online.
Blair said he understood the public had many questions about police conduct.
“I recognize that there is a need for answers and that the public quite rightfully expects that the matter will be thoroughly investigated. I want to assure you all that this will be done,” Blair told reporters.
“The public also has a right to demand that the Toronto Police Service examine the conduct of its officers to ensure that its training and procedures are both appropriate and followed. This will be done.”
Blair added that police will co-operate fully with Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which is investigating the 18-year-old’s death.
The SIU said an “interaction” between Yatim and police— which also included the use of a Taser — left the young man with multiple gunshot wounds.
Yatim was taken to hospital where he died of his injuries. A post mortem was conducted over the weekend.
The police watchdog said it is investigating the actions of one police officer in relation to Yatim’s death. In the course of its investigation, the SIU said it will be interviewing 22 witness officers who may have information on the incident.
The SIU has assigned six investigators and two forensic investigators to analyse the incident. Witnesses are being interviewed and video footage is being scrutinized.
Blair said in addition to the SIU investigation, he would be conducting a separate probe to see if police procedures and training were followed.
“A full report of my review, actions and recommendations will be submitted to the Toronto police services board within 30 days of being notified that the SIU has reported the results of their investigation to the Attorney General,” he said.
Ontario’s premier called Yatim’s death and the circumstances around it a “tragic situation.”
“My heart goes out to the family,” said Kathleen Wynne, adding that she couldn’t comment on the incident while it was under investigation.
Ontario’s ombudsman also weighed in on the case, saying his office would be reviewing the incident to determine if it could trigger a wider investigation.
“It’s important that I look at it from a provincial angle, and that’s what we’re considering right now,” said Andre Marin.
“The government of Ontario…has the ability to issue guidelines and directions to police services on de-escalating conflict. We’re going to have a discussion tomorrow to decide whether or not we should launch an investigation into whether or not those guidelines are sufficient.”
Marin added that his office would also be watching closely to see just how well police co-operate with the SIU in its investigation of Yatim’s death.
He cautioned, however, against a rush to judgment.
“Let’s wait till the SIU does its job,” Marin said. “Certainly, I have a lot of concerns when I read what I’ve read and seen what’s out there on video, but the SIU is in our province the body to get to the bottom of things.”
A makeshift memorial for Yatim now rests at the intersection where the shooting took place. A street pole encircled by burning candles was adorned with white roses and yellow daisies.
Messages left in memory of Yatim read “You were everyone’s son, everyone’s child” and “You asked for help and we failed you.”
Another message taped onto the pole read “You mattered.”
The incident has sparked outrage on social media.
Some called Yatim’s death “senseless and preventable,” while others demanded accountability for police actions.
One woman, who appeared to be related to Yatim, said she could not believe he was dead.
“One time he was with me in the car and saw a spider and you can’t imagine how he freaked out from a simple little spider,” a woman named Mays Ya wrote on Facebook.
“He can’t and won’t harm an ant..he is a kid!!! We should fight for his justice.”
A Facebook profile page under Yatim’s name said he was originally from Syria.
A march has been scheduled in Toronto for Monday evening that calls for justice for Yatim and an end to police violence.
One Facebook memorial page detailing the planned event said its goal was to make sure Yatim’s death triggered change.
“Though he didn’t have much time to live his life, we will leave a legacy out for him and he will in fact have changed the world for the better,” said a message posted by a group called Sammy’s Fight Back for Justice.
With files from Clare Clancy