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Toronto confronts police in wake of Sammy Yatim shooting

Citizens march after 18-year-old is shot and killed by cop


 

Michelle Siu/CP

The G-20 protests that left downtown Toronto in a bit of a daze in June 2010 had people asking questions about their police force. The sheer money spent on security— the infamous fence that surrounded the summit, and packs of police on every corner—was one thing. Then, a weekend’s worth of video evidence laid bare the tactics police used to contain protests and apprehend protesters.

Incidents across Toronto’s core culminated in the kettling of a demonstration at Queen and Spadina, and the temporary arrest of hundreds of people, protester and bystander alike. Ask anyone on the street in Toronto these days if the police went too far on that June weekend, and you’ll find plenty of nodding heads.

But that condemnation, as popular and immediate as it was, stopped short of unanimous. Some people sided with the cops—maybe no one who actually confronted the police, but residents of the city nonetheless.

Not so in Toronto as the city absorbs the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim by an unnamed police officer, apparently several times in short order, after Yatim allegedly brandished a knife on an empty streetcar. This morning, try to find a quote in any newspaper that gives the cop the benefit of the doubt, and you will fail. That doesn’t mean shoddy reporting, of course. The police chief, Bill Blair, spoke yesterday. He was careful not to name the officer. He didn’t defend, nor did he condemn.

(Worth noting: I’m writing this from Ottawa, not Toronto, so am considering the coverage from a distance.)

Most papers give huge play to a vigil that marched to the site of the streetcar showdown. Yatim’s mother, sitting at the spot where her son was killed, strikes a powerful image. Yesterday, Blair was candid, if brief, as he explained the force will co-operate with an SIU probe into Yatim’s death. “I am aware of the very serious concerns that the public has,” he said. “I know that people are seeking answers as to what occurred, why it happened, and if anything could have been done to prevent the tragic death of this young man.”

The Toronto Star quoted a police critic, a mental health expert and a city councillor who condemned the police action. Alok Mukherjee, the chair of the police board, told The Globe and Mail that his “first impression was one of total surprise and bewilderment” at how rapidly the situation on the streetcar escalated.

The unnamed police officer is without a public voice, and YouTube evidence of the incident has proved further isolating. The officer’s side of the story will eventually emerge, but for now an angry city confronts a police force it’s convinced has to right a very public wrong.

UPDATE: Both the Toronto Police Services Board and Yatim’s family have released statements.

The first paragraph from the TPSBThe Toronto Police Services Board extends its sincere sympathy to the family of Sammy Yatin at this time of their grievous loss. The Board also very much recognizes the serious concerns expressed by members of the community at large as a result of this tragic death. Like Mr. Yatin’s family and other Torontonians, the Toronto Police Services Board seeks to understand the tragic events that transpired on July 26, 2013 in order that appropriate action can follow. For this reason, the Board notes with approval Chief Blair’s unequivocal commitment to do his part to obtain the answers that we are all seeking.

The first paragraph from Yatim’s family: We would like to thank the public for all their support and understanding at this time. As you can imagine our lives have been turned upside down since the unimaginable events that occurred in the early morning hours this past Saturday and the death of our beloved son Sammy. There are no good words or sentiments that we can express that will embody how we feel right now. We are heart-broken, confused and still in a state of shock. The outpouring of support that our family has received from Torontonians and the entire country has been tremendous. Thank you to all who have reached out to us and helped us shoulder this pain. We are living a nightmare we can’t seem to wake up from.


What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with the public outcry after 18-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot and killed by police on a Toronto streetcar. The National Post fronts allegations that a Canadian who was supposed to provide logistical support to a Bulgarian bus bombing may have detonated the bomb himself. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with charges of inadequate police training in the wake of Yatim’s death. The Ottawa Citizen leads with provincial Liberals’ apparent attempts to convince the speaker of the legislature to reverse a contempt finding against the government. iPolitics fronts the increasingly wide-reaching effects overseas of Canada’s foreign service officer strike. CBC.ca leads with uncertainty about the popularity of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s call to legalize marijuana. CTV News leads with an explosion at a Florida gas plant that left seven people in hospital. National Newswatch showcases former Ontario cabinet minister George Smitherman’s column in The Huffington Post that explains why he won’t run in the Toronto Centre byelection.


Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Hostage. A Canadian employee of Braeval, a Toronto mining company with operations in Colombia, will be released by rebel group ELN in exchange for mining rights in the country. 2. Suicide. Elderly Canadians, and particularly men over the age of 85, have a higher risk of suicide than most other age groups—a risk exacerbated by an apparent lack of available treatment.
3. Kevin Page. The former parliamentary budget officer will teach public administration at the University of Ottawa and help establish a new fiscal studies institute to mirror his past work. 4. Extortion. Two women in Laval, Que., were charged with extortion, break and enter, and conspiracy related to a scandal that forced the resignation of interim mayor Alexandre Duplessis.
5. Iraq. At least 60 people died in 17 separate incidents in Iraq on Monday, increasing the monthly death toll in the country to 680—most of which came after Ramadan commenced on July 10. 6. Sex trade. The FBI freed 105 American children, mostly girls, caught in the sex trade in 76 cities across the country. Police also arrested 150 pimps in a three-day sweep.


 
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Toronto confronts police in wake of Sammy Yatim shooting

  1. Three questions.
    How did this young man go from just having graduated from a Catholic school, and working two jobs to pay for his own higher education, to a confrontational knife wielding teenager who supposedly terrorized the occupants of a Toronto streetcar?
    What could have possibly triggered such a bizarre incident?
    Why didn’t the officers responding to the call simply isolate the area and talk him down?

  2. I have a son who is bipolar. Fortunately he has had only one manic episode and has been fine the past couple of years, but this incident is my nightmare. When someone has a mental illness they may not act rationally. It’s appalling how little training police have to deal with situations like this. They are given guidelines on when to escalate use of force, but obviously have no guidelines or training on how to de-escalate situations.
    Between this incident, the G20 and Caledonia I have lost almost all respect for police in Ontario.

    • The police’s job is to protect the public, not the perpetrator of a crime. Unfortunately, bad things happen sometimes, but that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it should be. They’re not supposed to be social workers.

      • Well, no, that’s not the way it should be; every effort should be made to properly train officers and set performance expectations to keep such things to an absolute minimum. But you are right in that officers are as human as those whom they have to confront and the occasional major screw-up is, unfortunately, inevitable.

        • As much as I am horrified by the actions of the shooter, I am equally alarmed at how many cops stood by and watched their colleague commit a cold blooded murder without a word of protest or any attempt to intervene. That kid might have survived those first three shots. It was the firing of six bullets into a prone body that should have every cop on the scene facing charges for failing to do their jobs.

          They had a duty to protect that kid too, and every one of them failed in that duty. A shameful display of cowardice by every cop on the scene.

          • Or shock and disbelief. That almost always results in inaction.
            And where do you get “six shots at a prone body”? I may be misremembering, but that doesn’t match what I remember seeing in the video…

          • The kid was dropped by the first burst of three shots. After six seconds another six were pumped into him while he was lying in the aisle of the streetcar and then a few of our brave defenders rushed in to taser the kid’s body. Not one word of protest was heard on the video, no word or shock or disbelief either. Just a bunch of cops milling around looking useless. I guess it’s better that they be useless rather than actively dangerous to the public.

            Check the video, it’s available everywhere. This is probably the most informative http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/Toronto/ID/2398839823/

          • Thanks. Hadn’t seen that particular clip; makes things a lot clearer. And much more damning for the officer who is shooting.

      • Where was the public? The only people around are cops with guns. Many cops! The back door was open! The cop could have been talking to keep him busy while a cop could have got to him from behind. Shooting to kill was just that….murder! One person alone in a streetcar! But then again, cops want to be heroes! Nothing will be done about this abuse of power since it wasn’t a cop or a cop’s family member that was murdered! The cop will probably get a raise and promotion!

    • Ask yourself this: How many such incidents do police in Ontario face regularly? How many end badly? I’m not in any way saying that what happened to Sammy Yatim was right or deserved. I’m trying to take a “wait for all the evidence” approach to this, but the video looks pretty damning. But however tragic, it is just one high-stress situation that went wrong out of thousands that went right.

      Is there room for improvement? Always. But judging all police on the basis of a few screw-ups is like assuming all bipolar people are at some point going to turn into knife-wielding maniacs (and no, I’m not saying that’s what happened here, though you seem to assume so).

      Sammy’s family know that this was one officer, not “the police.” Let’s take our cue from them.

  3. The more I think about the Yatim case, the broader the implications appear.

    First, why did about 24 police officers respond to the scene? Did the dispatcher regard this as a potential incident of terrorism which required an overwhelming response? Or did every squad car and bicycle patrol in the area respond just to be part of the fun? In either case, the wailing of sirens (even, the video suggests, from stopped vehicles) created an atmosphere of tension and noise that was hardly calculated to make peaceful negotiation possible.

    Why were nine shots fired? Unless the shooter was having his own psychotic episode, the only possible reason seems to be that he too considered Mr. Yatim a terrorist threat who had to be completely immobilized before he could blow up his underwear. If that’s the case, who made the call?

    Why the posthumous Taser shot? Again, senseless unless they thought Mr. Yatim might be faking death from multiple gunshot wounds and might be about to set off the aforementioned bomb.

    But if someone had indeed made the call that there was a greater threat than a knife, why were most of the police just rubbernecking instead of clearing the area?

    We have to look long and hard at the way police should respond to similar incidents in the future. If every disturbed person waving a sharp instrument is to be regarded as a potential suicide bomber, some new use-of-force protocols are needed and there has to be clearer communication among police about just what responding officers should be doing to protect the public.

    • Click on the Sex Trade link at the top then scroll down the page that comes up. on the right to Extreme Force in Ontario. There’s a chart plus some stats on when the police decide to use lethal force.

      • Sex Trade link? What site are you on?

        EDIT: Never mind; was looking at the top bar, not Vaisey’s “Under the fold”. Found it…

      • You seem to have missed my point. I know there are protocols, but they don’t cover the case where “subject is a young, MIddle-Eastern-looking male who may have explosive underpants,” which seems to have been how Mr. Yatim was categorized. If we’re going to start pumping multiple rounds into people who match that description, we’d better at least have some policies to follow.

  4. Check out the photo of James Forcillo, the officer who shot and killed Sammy Yatim. Although I know what I see, please let us know what you see there.

    • What photo?

      • Do a search on the name. Huffington Post has one as do others.

  5. So a knife wielding criminal is dead. Why are all these people celebrating on the streets?

  6. Shooting is brutal, but so was the previous situation, which DID not have a happy ending option: yesterday he waved a knife, tomorrow what? I do not want to take my chance till tomorrow. I’d rather live in a world where an armed person, who disobeyed direct simple clear repeated police order, is positively shot, than in the world where such person is calmed down … till his brains boil up again and he harms somebody.

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