Long before the death of Sammy Yatim, the troubled teen gunned down by police on a Toronto streetcar, the topic of how authorities deal with people suffering from mental illnesses had already become a burgeoning issue.
The strife began with the death of Paul Boyd, a Vancouver man with bipolar disorder who was gunned down following a standoff with police in 2007. Brandishing a hammer and a bike chain, Boyd was considered armed and dangerous. Boyd's final moments were captured on video and although he appeared to be unarmed, kneeling down at the time of the fatal shot, Const. Lee Chipperfield was not charged in the incident.
Five years later, the death of Michael Eligon brought the issue back to the national spotlight. Eligon was an escaped mental patient who was shot and killed in Toronto's east end as he approached a team of officers with scissors in both hands. And just months after the Yatim shooting reignited the debate, a video of Eligon's final moments has now been released to the public.
Captured by a police dashboard camera, the video shows Eligon approaching the officers wearing nothing but a hospital gown and a pair of black socks. An officer can be heard screaming, "Back up, back up!" to the others as Eligon presses forward. He is just a few feet ahead of the officers when a constable can be heard shouting, "Shoot him."
Three shots are fired, and Eligon drops to the ground.
WARNING: Video contains graphic images.
Eligon was receiving treatment for depression with psychotic features at Toronto East General Hospital before his encounter with police, the Toronto Sun reports.
"He felt like the walls were closing in on him," shares Monique Garrow, Eligon's former case worker at St. Joseph’s Hospital, during the inquiry. "He was troubled. He was paranoid. He kept wondering why people are doing this to him."
Following his escape from the hospital, police were notified that Eligon had stolen a pair of scissors from a convenience store and reportedly stabbed a civilian in the hand.
The video is released just days after officers testified at an inquiry into three fatal police confrontations, Eligon's death being one of them. Officers on the scene were questioned on how they approached the situation, focusing on why they continued to shout at Eligon instead of attempting to calm the troubled man down.
"I couldn’t even remember my own name at the time," Const. Scott Walker shares during Wednesday's testimony. "This is a situation where a guy’s coming at you with scissors trying to kill you and you’re trying to create rapport?
"No. This is not a situation where you can have a nice leisurely chat. We’re not psychiatrists."
While eight of the officers on the scene are expected to testify, it's important to note that none of the officers have been charged. Authorities involved in the deaths of Reyal Jardine-Douglas and Sylvia Klibingaitis, two Toronto-area residents with cases similar to that of Eligon, were also cleared of any wrongdoing. Const. James Forcillo, however, faces charges of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act in the death of Sammy Yatim.
From everyday citizens to the families of those killed, all of the cases mentioned above have prompted calls for justice. The inquiry, however, is more focused on raising questions about the use of force and how officers on the front-lines handle situations involving the mentally ill.
"I hope there will be a very strong message in the form of various recommendations to police that they must attempt de-escalation in any situation where it's feasible," Peter Rosenthal, lawyer for the Eligon family shared with The Canadian Press.
"The problem, I think, is that no police officer to my knowledge has ever been disciplined for failing to de-escalate a situation. In my view the police have to be properly policed."