In wake of streetcar shooting, Ontario ombudsman to review police protocol

The Globe and Mail

Ontario ombudsman André Marin is reviewing the guidelines given to police by Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services on how to defuse confrontations after Sammy Yatim, 18, was shot to death by Constable James Forcillo on a Toronto streetcar on July 27, 2013. is seen following a news conference in Toronto, Wednesday July 16, 2008. Marin announced his office is launching a full investigation into the province's monitoring of nursing homes. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ontario’s government watchdog is reviewing guidelines given to the province’s police forces for defusing confrontations like the one that ended in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar.

André Marin, the Ontario ombudsman, said Wednesday the shooting has ignited debate about the effectiveness of the guidance the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services gives to municipal and provincial police departments.

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“The ministry has the power to set standards for Ontario police services,” Mr. Marin said in a prepared statement. “The latest shooting by a Toronto police officer raises the question of whether it is time for the ministry to direct Ontario police services on how to de-escalate situations of conflict before they lead to the use of fatal force.”

He said his staff will review the guidelines and assess whether a wider investigation by his office is warranted. He did not put a deadline on the review, but said it would be completed as quickly as possible.

The development is not a complete surprise. Mr. Marin has been outspoken about the incident and earlier in the week said he would confer with his staff about what steps, if any, his office would take.

Mr. Marin did not return messages from The Globe and Mail seeking an interview.

In an interview with CBC early Wednesday, Mr. Marin questioned whether the province or Toronto Police have made good faith efforts to implement measures to de-escalate conflicts that were recommended by juries of several coroner’s inquests into civilian deaths at the hands of police.

“What has the Toronto Police Service done with the results of those inquests? What has the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the provincial government, done with the results of these inquests?” Mr. Marin asked on CBC’s Metro Morning radio program.

Ministry spokesman Andrew Morrison said the ministry would co-operate with the ombudsman and that it continuously reassesses its use-of-force standards.

“All police officers in Ontario receive use-of-force training as recruits and on an annual basis thereafter as part of their in-service training,” Mr. Morrison said. “A key component of the training focuses on de-escalation techniques, such as establishing rapport, conflict resolution, mediation and threat management with the aim to prevent further escalation.”

Mr. Marin’s review is separate from and should not interfere with two other investigations into the shooting.

The province’s Special Investigations Unit, which Mr. Marin previously led, has opened a case, as has Toronto Police Services under the direction of Chief Bill Blair.

Chief Blair has pledged his department’s full co-operation with the Special Investigations Unit, although the relationship between the unit and rank-and-file police officers has been historically tense.

While provincial law requires officers who witnessed the incident to submit to an interview with unit investigators, it does not demand so of the “subject officer,” the officer whose actions are believed to have been lethal.

Constable James Forcillo has been identified as the shooter and the “subject officer” in the investigation. His lawyer, Peter Brauti, has said he has not yet decided whether his client would talk to investigators.

In recent years, only about one third of “subject officers” from the Toronto Police Services have sat for interviews with SIU investigators.

Mr. Marin said his office will monitor the SIU investigation, particularly issues relating to police co-operation.