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

  • America first? Trump pushes aside Montenegro Prime Minster Markovic during NATO photocall

    World News Toronto Sun
    BRUSSELS — President Donald Trump’s push to get in front of the pack at a NATO summit generated indignation in the Balkans and garnered attention on social media — but the man he shoved aside took it in stride. Source
  • Skydiver wearing a wingsuit crashes, dies in California

    World News CTV News
    SAN FRANCISCO -- The skydiver who fell to his death in a California vineyard was wearing a specialized jumpsuit that resembles a flying squirrel and undertaking an extreme but growing sport that can send people soaring through the air at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour (322 kilometres per hour. Source
  • Shocking images show torture, executions by Iraqi soldiers

    World News CTV News
    Warning: This story and the accompanying video include graphic images and descriptions of torture. A photojournalist who embedded with an elite group of Iraqi soldiers has documented point-blank executions and brutal torture of what appear to be civilians. Source
  • Maryland day care worker allegedly recorded herself torturing baby

    World News Toronto Sun
    BALTIMORE — A day care worker in Maryland was captured on video “torturing” an 8-month-old girl who later died, authorities said Thursday. She has been charged with murder. Leah Walden, 23, is charged with murder, assault, child abuse and reckless endangerment in the death of Reese Bowman at Rocket Tiers Learning Center on Tuesday, Baltimore Police said in a statement. Source
  • Woman finds her stolen car — but then it gets stolen again after police take hours to respond

    Canada News CBC News
    A bizarre car theft has left a Brampton woman angry with Peel Regional Police, after she found her stolen vehicle but then waited hours for help from law enforcement. So long, in fact, that the car went missing a second time. Source
  • Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner now a focus of Russia probe [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation. Source
  • Spry woman jumps on hood of SUV to thwart carjacking [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    What would you do if someone tried to steal your vehicle right in front of you? For one Wisconsin resident, the answer is simple: Go all Martin Riggs and jump on its hood. Melissa Smith was the victim of an attempted carjacking while filling up at a gas station in downtown Milwaukee Tuesday afternoon. Source
  • Grits fork over another $30M to keep Canada at F-35 table

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    OTTAWA — Canada has quietly paid another $30 million toward development of the F-35 — money that could become insurance in the trade dispute between U.S. aerospace firm Boeing and Canadian rival Bombardier. The annual payment was made to the U.S. Source
  • Annual G7 meeting coming to Quebec next year

    Canada News CBC News
    Canada will play host to next year's meeting of G7 leaders at a remote luxury resort in the Charlevoix region of Quebec, The Canadian Press has learned. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to make the announcement at some point during this year's G7 meetings, which get underway Friday in Sicily. Source
  • Trump administration to appeal latest block to travel ban to U.S. Supreme Court [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban “speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination,” a federal appeals court said Thursday in ruling against the executive order targeting six Muslim-majority countries. Source