The mother of a man who died after a shooting in Toronto’s west end says she and her family are upset about the process by which police released a mug shot of her son as part of the identification process.
Sidi Mohamed Sow was one of five men injured in a parking lot behind a plaza near Jane Street and Woolner Avenue on Friday night after a vehicle came to the area. Police said at least two people began “indiscriminately shooting” those in the parking lot. He was taken to hospital, where he died on Saturday.
Sow’s mother, who asked not to be identified, told Global News she spoke with police after Friday’s shooting. However, hours after her son died, she said she was contacted by police again.
“Two policemen … they knocked on my door at 3 a.m. They asked for a photo to put on the news. I couldn’t even think at that time, and my husband felt even dizzy,” she recalled.
“We were asking more questions. They said it’s very important we give them a picture, so they’re going to put it in the news. Otherwise, they might put the mug shot, which we wouldn’t like.”
Sow’s mother said she didn’t understand what exactly the picture was going to be. She said she questioned why the officers had to come at 3 a.m., adding officers gave her a card with contact information to follow up with a photo.
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“I said, ‘Right now is not a good time. You see my husband? He’s going to drop dead. He’s already on the floor. Can you just please leave?'” Sow’s mother recalled.
“He’s a good boy for me. I never had (an) issue with my boy. It’s just so hard to think about that he’s gone.”
She said the family had many photos of Sow but reiterated the timing was inappropriate. Sow’s mother said they didn’t hear back from anyone the next day.
On Sunday afternoon, the Toronto Police Service issued a news release identifying Sow with a picture that appeared to be a mugshot.
Police took down the news release Monday morning. A short time later, it was reissued, and officials said it was used in error. The updated statement referenced the Youth Criminal Justice Act as the reason for the photo’s removal, citing a particular section in the law.
“Subject to this section, no person shall publish the name of a young person, or any other information related to a young person, if it would identify the young person as a young person dealt with under this act,” the statement said.
The revised news release also corrected Sow’s age. Sow was 21 and not 20, as originally listed.
Sow’s photograph was eventually posted by multiple media outlets, including Global News. Global News used that photo in the absence of a picture being provided at the time by Sow’s family.
After independently confirming Sow’s identity, Global News subsequently updated its stories and social media posts.
Sow’s mother said she learned on Sunday that the photo was released by police and didn’t know what to do.
“I was feeling horrible … I’m just shocked,” she said.
Toronto police have had a long-standing practice of issuing mug shot photos to identify victims in the absence of ones supplied by their next of kin. There are similar examples on the service’s homicide unit website.
Meaghan Gray, a Toronto police spokesperson, said the service tries to “release as much information as possible without compromising privacy, investigative tactics and/or court processes.”
“For homicide investigations, these cases represent the most egregious of crimes and — in consultation with families — photographs of victims are released to further investigations and give faces to the names of people who are murdered in the city of Toronto,” she told Global News in a statement.
“Every effort is made to use a photograph other than what is available in the service’s records management system. Sometimes, this is not possible.”
Priscilla de Villiers, whose daughter Nina was murdered in 1991, has become an advocate for victims. She said the long-standing practice of releasing mug shots for victims needs to be reviewed.
“I find that very troubling because, in fact, before we even know who was involved in it or what role he played, you’re in fact labelling him as an offender. This will never go away. This will always be the last memory, particularly in these days of social media,” she said.
“As the mother of a murdered child, all that is left is you want to protect and honour who they were, and so I believe by randomly putting a mug shot up, you are, in effect, labelling that person forever and not allowing any of their final qualities to come through.
“I think one’s got to think very carefully about that … I think it should be reassessed.”
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign has been launched to help Sow’s family with expenses.