Ontairo ombudsman says Toronto police appear to lack public trust after Sammy Yatim shooting

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Toronto police fired multiple shots into a streetcar Friday night, killing a man armed with a knife

The death of Sammy Yatim, who was shot amid a standoff with police while standing on board an empty streetcar, could soon be the focus of another major investigation, this one at the hands of Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin.

Marin had previously said he would look into launching a full investigation into how police handle standoffs, as well as regulations on how to de-escalate tense situations without the use of violence. But his office’s involvement became more likely on Wednesday, when he said the Toronto Police Service appeared to suffer from a "paralysis of policy" and suggests there is a growing lack of trust between the public and the Toronto Police Service.

The comments come as we come to learn more about Const. James Forcillo, the officer involved in the weekend shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim. Eye-witness video of the shooting incident has been published on the Internet, leading police officials to ask for patience from the public as the matter is thoroughly investigated.

[ More Brew: Sammy Yatim: What we know about Const. James Forcillo ]

Among those investigations will likely be one conducted by the provincial oversight office. Marin officially directed his staff on Wednesday to conduct a case assessment into whether a provincial investigation is warranted.

“The police have some work to do to build some trust,” Marin told CBC’s Matt Galloway on Wednesday. “And part of that is explaining what they are going to do about de-escalating conflict in situations such as these, because the public is, I think, quite properly horrified by what they have seen on the video tapes.”

An ombudsman investigation would examine de-escalation guidelines used by Ontario police forces. Those guidelines are outlined by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services – meaning Yatim's death could have a profound effect on what steps officers are to take in future standoff situations.

The ombudsman's case assessment would have no affect on the ongoing Ontario Special Investigations Unit, which is currently determining whether to press charges in the incident.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has also promised to do an internal review of police procedures following the fatal shooting.

[ More Brew: Footage of Sammy Yatim shooting one troubling snapshot ]

On Wednesday, Marin said he was in shock and disbelief over the tragic shooting. He suggested that if the police were unable to implement proper measures to avoid unnecessary deaths then the province would need to intervene.

Marin said there has been dozens of inquests into how Toronto officers handle de-escalation issues over the years. He wonder what has been done in the wake of those reports, including a letter sent from SIU director Ian Scott directly to Chief Blair last year.

"We have reached a point where I'm going to be assessing whether if the police, as big brother, can't fix the problem is it time for the province, as the bigger brother, to take charge and direct the police on how to do their job," Marin told Galloway.

Marin said police services do not exist in a void, stating that the province has the right and authority to step in and implement changes within the ranks.

Marin's assessment will be conducted by the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT), a team established in 2005 in order to quickly and efficiently handle major investigations.

SORT has previously been used to investigate several police-related points of concern. In 2007, it was deployed as part of an investigation into Ontario's SIU following an "increase in complaints" about the police oversight agency.

The resulting report claimed the SIU was lacking teeth and called for more powers to be given the unit. The provincial government committed to strengthening the SIU mandate.

Marin says he will decide in the next couple of weeks whether to hold a full investigation into the death of Sammy Yatim.

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