Toronto rally draws hundreds calling for action on police shootings
Published Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:13AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 13, 2013 3:51PM EDT
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in downtown Toronto Tuesday calling for justice in the death of Sammy Yatim, the 18-year-old killed aboard a streetcar after a police-involved shooting incident in late July.
Approximately 300-500 people, including Yatim’s mother and sister, marched during the noon hour from Yonge-Dundas Square to Toronto Police headquarters. Demonstrators chanted “No justice, no peace,” and carried banners with messages including: “An empty streetcar? Whom did you protect.”
Upon arrival at headquarters, members of Yatim’s family were escorted into the building, where a monthly Toronto Police Service board meeting was taking place.
After the meeting Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told reporters that he remains committed to continuous improvement of the city’s police force.
"There's always a great expectation on the police service that they will do right. We have a responsibility to serve and protect the people of this city and we always strive to do that according to the law," Blair said.
On Monday, Blair announced an independent review of the circumstances surrounding Yatim’s death.
"I am very pleased that Justice O'Connor has agreed to take this on. He's a man of great integrity and he has an outstanding record of public service and I believe his involvement will enable us to identify recommendations which will continue to help us improve," Blair told reporters after privately meeting with the Yatim family on Tuesday.
Blair would not comment on what was said during his private meeting with the Yatim family.
A spokesperson for the Yatim family openly criticized Blair's handling of the incident saying that Blair is "stalling."
"I think he should have done differently than what he did," Joseph Nazar said. "He appointed Justice O'Connor, a very well respected judge, but I think he could have done better himself. He should have controlled the situation in a better way to satisfied this crowd."
Protesters continued to demonstrate outside the building but remained peaceful, reported CP24’s George Lagogianes, even after the Yatim family announced their involvement with the protest was finished.
Earlier at a news conference held by the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, family members of loved ones killed in some of Ontario’s police-involved incidents called for change in police training and practices.
Several said Yatim’s death has “retraumatized” them, and they are asking the province’s ombudsman to meet with them to discuss solutions and prevent similar deaths.
The OFL meanwhile, called for a probe into police training across the province, as well as an investigation of the Special Investigations Unit, the province's police watchdog.
“We are demanding an independent investigation into police training, policies and practices from the highest levels of decision-making right down to the frontline response,” OFL vice-president Irwin Nanda said.
The news conference and rally come less than a month after the death of Yatim, who was killed in a standoff with police in the early morning hours of July 27 after brandishing a knife on a downtown streetcar.
Nanda said the teen’s death was the result of a “total breakdown of the policing system.”
In surveillance and video footage captured at the scene, Yatim can be seen pacing in the stopped, empty streetcar as shouts of "drop the knife" were directed at the teen. Nine shots can be heard on a bystander’s video, the first three fired in succession followed by a pause before six more were fired.
The SIU, which is probing the death, says a Taser was also discharged.
The officer involved in the incident, Const. James Forcillo, has been suspended with pay.
The incident sparked outcry and put the spotlight on the Toronto Police Service and its use-of-force practices.
In response to the criticism, Toronto Police chief Bill Blair announced Monday that he has asked retired justice Dennis O’Connor to review and make recommendations for best practices concerning police use of force and response to emotionally disturbed people.
But Karyn Greenwood-Graham, mother of one police-shooting victim, blasted Blair’s call for a review, calling it “pure tokenism.”
Ruth Schaeffer, whose son was killed in a police shooting, said such reports are “gathering dust” across the country.
“All the recommendations that need to be put in place to safeguard the life of a Canadian citizen are sitting in print for anybody who’s interested to implement those things,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the families, Greenwood-Graham said Yatim’s death has sparked a “re-traumatization of our own experiences."
“We are really, really reeling from this killing,” she said, adding their loved ones’ deaths were preventable.
“We’re actually in a David and Goliath battle here and I’d like to ask the public to actually get behind us and actually call their MPPs and insist on change,” she said.
Toronto Police Services board chair Alok Mukherjee said the board “shares the community’s determination that Sammy Yatim’s death should not be in vain.”
He said the board has asked Blair for a “thorough and comprehensive” review.
“The board is committed to making the report public in the interest of transparency and accountability,” he said.
Last week, Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin announced he will be examining the type of direction Ontario provides to police regarding de-escalation techniques used in conflict situations.
A coroner’s inquest into the deaths of three people who were shot and killed approaching Toronto police officers with weapons is scheduled to begin in October.