TORONTO – The use of police force in the shooting death of a young man in Toronto has prompted Ontario’s ombudsman to question whether it is time for the provincial government to review police de-escalation guidelines.
Andre Marin said Wednesday he has ordered a “case assessment” to determine if a full-fledged investigation into those guidelines is necessary in the wake of Sammy Yatim’s death.
The 18-year-old died Saturday morning after receiving multiple gunshot wounds during what the province’s police watchdog called an “interaction” with police.
The incident, which was captured on surveillance and cellphone video, has sparked public outrage over police use of force.
Marin said his office will examine the direction and guidelines provided by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to Ontario’s police for de-escalating situations that could potentially result in the use of force.
He said the Ministry has the power to set standards for the province’s police services.
“The latest shooting by a Toronto police officer raises the question of whether it is time for the Ministry to direct Ontario police services on how to de-escalate situations of conflict before they lead to the use of fatal force,” he said in a statement.
Marin added that the ombudsman’s case assessment will not affect the ongoing investigation by the province’s Special Investigations Unit, but his office will monitor any issues relating to police co-operation with the SIU.
The SIU has said Yatim died after receiving multiple gunshot wounds and that a Taser was also used.
In one video that has circulated online, Yatim can be seen pacing an empty streetcar as shouts of “drop the knife” are heard. Then nine shots can be heard —first three shots in succession then six more after a pause of about six seconds.
All police officers in Canada learn the same use-of-force model where lethal force is the last option, said Paul McKenna, a Dalhousie University lecturer who has been a consultant in police departments for 25 years.
“The best weapon that police have in these kinds of circumstances is actually time,” he said, adding that police need to look for “the best solution not the lethal solution.”
The use-of-force model is a continuum that compels officers to make a choice of weapon depending on the situation, McKenna said.
For lethal force, there has to be a “perceived and reasonable” threat of imminent death to the officer, a member of the public or the subject, he said.
The officer involved in the shooting has been identified as Const. James Forcillo. His lawyer, Peter Brauti, said he is reviewing the case, but has not yet decided whether to recommend Forcillo submit to an SIU interview.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has said his office would conduct its own review of the shooting.
Yatim’s family said in a statement on Tuesday that they do not blame all of the Toronto police force for the death of their son.
“We want to be clear that we do not hold any ill will against the thousands of police officers who work to protect us each day. This is a tragedy for all involved.”
The family also thanked Blair for promising to fully co-operate with the SIU investigation.
“We expect that this matter will be investigated with the fullest measure of the law, so that incidents like this can be better managed and de-escalated before such extreme use of force is ever exercised again,” the family said.
Meanwhile the grief-stricken family has planned a funeral Thursday at 11 a.m.
Close family friend Joseph Nazar said Yatim’s parents are “devastated.”
“His mother hasn’t eaten in days,” he said, adding that friends have been trying to feed her spoonfuls of soup.
And the same is true for Yatim’s father, Nazar said.
“I’ve told him … he needs to be able to stand at the funeral,” he said.