By TOM GODFREY
A report on the use of lethal force that was conducted for Toronto Police by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci is getting mixed reviews in the community.
The long-anticipated 413-page report stems from the police shooting death of Sammy Yatim, 18, on a streetcar one year ago.
The report was released days before the first anniversary of Yatim’s death, which was marked last weekend by his family members with a small vigil.
Yatim’s father, Nabil, said in a statement that no parent should have to live through what his family did.
“My family and his friends still suffer,” said Nabil. “I miss him every minute of the day and I will do everything in my power to help create change in how the police respond to these situations.”
Yatim was alleged to be wielding a knife inside an empty streetcar on Dundas St., when he was shot nine times by police and then Tasered.
The incident was captured on video and posted online, sparking a public outrage that led to Chief Bill Blair requesting a report to take a broad look at how officers interact with people in crisis.
Const. James Forcillo has been charged with second-degree murder and will stand trial next year. He is back at work on the force.
The report recommends that police who come into contact with people in crisis wear body cameras and the use of Tasers be extended to all front-line officers to provide an alternative to shooting.
Iacobucci, in his 84 recommendations, suggested the use of police psychologists in the recruiting and training stages of officers and the creation of a police and mental health oversight body to include psychiatric experts and emergency workers.
“This is not a report that will gather dust; this is a report that will gather momentum,” Blair said on accepting the document last week.
Yatim’s mother and sister are suing Blair, Forcillo and others on the force for $8 million in damages. They claim to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety as a result of the teen’s death.
Gary Pieters of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations said all new constables should have to undergo a “mental health first aid course”.
“The de-escalation of confrontations and successful handling of persons in crisis is an important consideration when deciding promotions,” Pieters said in a statement.
He called for the expanded use of mobile crisis intervention teams, in which a veteran officer is paired with a mental health nurse.
Pieters said officers specially trained to deal with the mentally ill should be dispatched to people in crisis calls.
He called for “preferential hiring of applicants who have a background in community involvement or in mental health services”.
Pieters is also concerned about the use of Tasers by all frontline officers.
“We believe that a differentiated approach or tiered approach to de-escalation which should place combined emphasis on interpersonal communications, alternatives to aggression and violence,” his statement said.
He called for Iacobucci’s report to become a roadmap for Toronto and all Canadian police services. Pieters said municipal, provincial and federal police forces stand to benefit from reviewing the recommendations.
“People in crisis, across Canada, deserve better treatment from police,” said Pieters.