Forcillo case reveals shifting attitude toward cops' dealing with those in crisis

TORONTO -- A guilty finding against a Toronto police officer who gunned down a knife-wielding teen on an empty streetcar suggests the public has become more sensitive toward how police deal with those in crisis, some experts said Tuesday.

See Full Article

At the same time, they said, the prosecution of Const. James Forcillo has highlighted the need to address systemic issues around police training and the funding of mental health services.

"The public no longer has an appetite for police simply saying, 'This is use of force'," said Frances Jewell, executive director with the Mental Health Rights Coalition in Hamilton.

"The conversation has started but there's a disconnect between what police are saying has changed and what has changed."

In what has been described as a "compromise" verdict, a jury acquitted Forcillo on Monday of second-degree murder for shooting Sammy Yatim, 18, but found him guilty of attempted murder for continuing to fire after the dying teen had fallen to the floor.

Forcillo's union warned the verdict would put officers at further risk by causing them to hesitate before responding to dangerous situations. On the other hand, the lawyer for Yatim's family suggested too many officers have been literally getting away with murder by claiming self-defence.

Dorothy Cotton, a forensic psychologist in Kingston, Ont., said the verdict is a sign attitudes toward the mentally ill -- and police accountability -- have shifted.

"The significance of this whole trial is really in the fact that there was a trial and he was found guilty of anything at all," said Cotton, who has worked with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

"In contrast to attitudes we had in the past toward people who appear to be crazy or out of their minds, society as a whole is saying that this is not the norm and we can't tolerate this any more."

Statistics Canada data show about one million interactions between police and people in some kind of mental health crisis each year. The vast majority end without serious incident. For others, however, the result is what advocates consider an unnecessary fatality as well as trauma for both the families and officers involved.

Advocates have long called for better police training for dealing with people in crisis. They insist officers should do everything possible to defuse a volatile situation before resorting to Tasers or firearms.

For their part, police insist they are doing what they can to help. In B.C., for example, new and seasoned officers are required to undergo training on dealing with the mentally ill. Other services say their training does emphasize de-escalation techniques.

Jewell, however, was skeptical, noting Forcillo barked orders and shot Yatim dead less than one minute after arriving on scene.

"Where on earth did they get the message that was a de-escalation technique?" she said. "I must say I'm jaded in that we hear that the changes will happen and yet they don't."

Still, training and accountability issues aside, mental health advocates say the Yatim killing -- and others like it -- demonstrate a crying need for more funding of supports for the mentally ill to avert potentially deadly confrontations with officers in the first place.

All too often, they note, people finding themselves on the wrong end of an officer's gun had tried unsuccessfully to find help for their worsening mental health.

A few years ago, for example, Richard Kachkar went on a rampage with a stolen snowplow, prompting Toronto police Sgt. Ryan Russell to open fire in an effort to stop him. In that tragic case, Russell was run down and killed. Kachkar, who for weeks had sparked concerns about his deteriorating behaviour, was found not criminally responsible.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Book borrowed in 1956 is finally returned to New Brunswick library

    Canada News CTV News
    MONCTON, N.B. -- An overdue book is finally back at the public library in Moncton, N.B., -- 63 years after it was borrowed. Librarian Chantale Bellemare says a senior was cleaning his house and discovered the volume of Relax and Live, a self-help book for relieving tension and getting better sleep. Source
  • Caught on cam: Alabama robbery turns into intense knife and machete fight

    World News CTV News
    The shocking moment a daring gas station robbery descended into an intense knife and machete fight was all caught on camera. Surveillance cameras captured video of the alleged robber entering a store with a knife in North Huntsville, Ala. Source
  • Man critical after being shot by Calgary police during alleged home invasion

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- Police in Calgary say an officer shot a man when police responded to a report of an armed home invasion. Officers arrived at the scene early Saturday and say they found two men allegedly attempting to flee in a vehicle. Source
  • Car rental employee admits to spiking co-workers' drinks with LSD

    World News CTV News
    A car rental employee has admitted to spiking his co-workers' drinks with LSD because they had “negative energy.” According to KMOV News 4, the 19-year-old Enterprise worker was arrested on Monday after telling authorities in Arnold, Mo. Source
  • Ford says social media allows politicians to circumvent mainstream journalists

    Canada News CBC News
    Premier Doug Ford says mainstream journalists have become irrelevant because social media allows him to speak directly to Ontarians. The Ontario premier told a conference of conservative thinkers, strategists and politicians Saturday that journalists are "losing the battle" to inform people about the news. Source
  • Here’s a breakdown of car seat regulations across Canada

    Canada News CTV News
    New regulations in Quebec will determine how long a child is required to use car seats or booster seats. Beginning April 18, children will need to be strapped into these types of seats until they are nine or stand more than 1.45 m (4’9”) tall. Source
  • Dozens killed in ethnic militia attack on Mali village

    World News CBC News
    Militia fighters descended on a village in central Mali early Saturday, killing at least 40 people, including the village chief and his grandchildren, in the latest violence based on ethnic militias in the volatile region. Militants from a Dogon group known as Dan Na Ambassagou have been blamed for scores of attacks over the past year, according to Human Rights Watch. Source
  • Cruise ship off Norway evacuated due to strong winds, engine trouble

    World News CBC News
    Police say a cruise ship with engine problems has sent a mayday call off Norway's western coast and is transporting its 1,300 passengers to shore. Norwegian newspaper VG said the Viking Sky cruise ship ran into propulsion problems as strong winds and heavy seas hit Norway's coastal regions Saturday. Source
  • Passengers rescued by helicopter from stranded cruise ship near Norway

    World News CBC News
    Police say a cruise ship with engine problems has sent a mayday call off Norway's western coast and is transporting its 1,300 passengers to shore. Norwegian newspaper VG said the Viking Sky cruise ship ran into propulsion problems as strong winds and heavy seas hit Norway's coastal regions Saturday. Source
  • Priest stabbed during mass in Montreal released from hospital

    Canada News CBC News
    The 26-year-old man suspected of attacking a priest at the Saint-Joseph Oratory in Montreal Friday is expected to be charged in court Saturday afternoon. The priest, Father Claude Grou, suffered minor injuries and has been released from hospital. Source