OHS Canada Magazine

Toronto police use-of-force policies in the spotlight

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

The chief of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) has announced that a retired justice will examine the police’s use of force in response to emotionally disturbed persons following the police shooting of a teenager on an empty streetcar in late July.

Chief Bill Blair announced on Aug. 12 that retired Associate Chief Justice of Ontario Dennis O’Connor would assist the TPS by examining its use-of-force procedures and making recommendations related to policies, procedures, training and equipment.

O’Connor will also conduct an international review of established best practices and make recommendations that will enable the TPS to improve the quality of its service, Blair said at a press conference.

The announcement was in response to the police shooting of Sammy Yatim, 18, who died at about 12:10 a.m. on July 27. Yatim suffered multiple gunshot wounds and a conducted energy weapon was also deployed.

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The conduct of the officers involved in the incident — 23 were on scene at the time, the SIU reported — is currently under investigation by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), an independent agency that investigates instances of serious injury, death or sexual assault involving police officers.

“I acknowledged the very serious concerns that the family of the deceased and the public have, and I gave my assurance to all of the citizens of Toronto of our unwavering commitment to get the answers they seek,” Blair said during the press conference, adding that the SIU’s investigation remains a priority over all other inquiries.

“The law is quite clear in preventing me from disclosing any information on the incident or the investigation. This maintains the integrity of the investigation and I will continue to uphold it. We will continue to cooperate fully with the SIU.”

Blair said that O’Connor would have all the resources related to the TPS’s policies, procedures and training at his disposal. O’Connor, who sat on the Court of Appeal for Ontario from 1998 to 2012 and was also deputy judge of the Yukon Supreme Court, has conducted two high-profile public inquiries: the 2000-2002 inquiry into the 2000 E. coli water supply contamination in Walkerton, Ontario and the 2004-2006 inquiry into the deportation and torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar in Syria in 2002 and 2003.

Blair’s announcement follows that of Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, who said on Aug. 8 that he would conduct a systematic investigation into the direction provided to police by the provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services for de-escalating conflict situations. It will be completed within six to 12 months.

“The ministry can set standards for police training or procedures across the province, for example, as was done in B.C. after the police-involved death of Robert Dziekasnki,” Marin said in a statement.

“There have also been recommendations from inquests into similar deaths over the past two decades. What has been done? What should be done? We’ll focus on that,” Marin said.

The ministry said in a release on the same day that it was conducting an ongoing use-of-force review.

The Ontario Federation of Labour welcomes the review. “We cannot continue to treat each police shooting as an accident or anomaly,” said OFL executive vice-president Irwin Nanda. “We are hopeful that a full investigation into police training, guidelines and everything in between can ensure that this tragedy finally brings lasting changes so that Sammy’s life wasn’t lost in vain.”