Ontario ombudsman will investigate police de-escalation following Sammy Yatim shooting

Watch: Ombudsman to investigate province’s de-escalation guidelines for police. Mark Carcasole reports. 

TORONTO – Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin is investigating police policies for defusing crisis situations like the one that led to the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim in July.

Yatim, 18, was killed by police July 27 as he stood alone on a streetcar with a knife. His death prompted outrage across the city and on social media, with more than 30,000 people signing a petition calling from criminal charges to be laid against the officer who fired the fatal shots.

Marin’s investigation will last up to 12 months and will not interfere with other ongoing investigations, Marin said Thursday afternoon at Queen’s Park.

“The investigation we will be conducting has nothing to do with the criminality element or the conduct of the subject officer under investigation,” Marin said. “We’re conducting an investigation into the systemic response to conflict by police services in Ontario.”

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There are already two separate investigations into the shooting: Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is investigating and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has promised his own internal investigation after the SIU’s is complete

But Mike McCormack, President of the Toronto Police Association, accused Marin of “grandstanding” and disregarding the SIU’s investigation.

“This is nothing more than grandstanding, attention grabbing for the ombudsman. Quite frankly we find it rather ill-informed that he would be coming out doing this prior to the investigative process being completed,” McCormack said. “It’s very clear that he’s doing nothing more than trying to test the lines of his jurisdiction because he has no bearing on what happened here in Toronto, or no jurisdiction.”

The ombudsman does not have the authority to investigate the police. But Marin says his investigation will focus less on the specific situation and more on the province’s guidelines.

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“We will be looking at de-escalation of conflict right from Day One of training, to whether the province should issue ongoing rules to make sure they [police] are trained,” Marin said. “Right now, how it [de-escalation] happens in Ottawa, London, Toronto is diverse as the cities.”

Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur said police officers across Ontario receive use of force training as recruits and then yearly throughout their career.

Amateur footage captured by witnesses to Yatim’s shooting captured the sound of police officers shouting several times for Yatim to “drop the knife.” Three gunshots can then be heard and video obtained by Global News from an adjacent business show Yatim falling. After he falls, six seconds pass before six more shots are fired.

The streetcar was temporarily taken out of service. But on Wednesday, the TTC announced that with the Yatim’s family blessing, it will be put back into service along the 505 Dundas Street West route this week.

Constable James Forcillo, a six-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service, has been named the “subject officer” in the SIU’s investigation. No charges have been laid.

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-With files from Mark Carcasole and The Canadian Press