Groups to rally in Toronto to call for action on police shootings

TORONTO – Representatives for the families of seven people killed in police shootings in Ontario will join together today in Toronto to call for action to prevent other fatal police encounters.

The family of Sammy Yatim, who died last month after being shot by police on a streetcar, is scheduled to appear at a press conference arranged by the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.

The noon press conference is expected to be followed by a rally at the downtown Yonge-Dundas Square, where people will call for justice for Yatim., who was 18.

The OFL says it is demanding an independent investigation into police training, policies and practices “from the highest levels of decision-making right down to the front line response.”

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair announced Monday that he has appointed retired justice Dennis O’Connor to assist the force in its review of all police practices, including use of force.

Blair says he’s asked O’Connor to make recommendations and examine best practices from around the world, citing public concern about police use of force and response to emotionally disturbed people.

Yatim’s death on an empty streetcar was captured on surveillance and cellphone videos in which shouts of “drop the knife” can be heard as a few officers surround the streetcar.

Three shots ring out and Yatim can be seen dropping to the floor, then seconds later six more shots can be heard followed by the sound of a Taser.

O’Connor’s probe into Toronto police practices isn’t the only investigation announced into how frontline officers handle dangerous situations and what force they use.

A coroner’s inquest into the deaths of three people — may have had mental health issues, and were shot and killed after approaching Toronto police officers with weapons — is scheduled to begin in October.

And Ontario’s ombudsman will look into what kind of direction the provincial government provides to police for defusing conflict situations.

Andre Marin said many coroner’s inquests into similar deaths over the past 20 years have made recommendations that are almost “carbon copied from each other,” but he wondered what has happened to all these recommendations.