A Toronto police officer facing a manslaughter charge has had it upgraded to second-degree murder, meaning prosecutors believe he intended to kill the man who was shot.
Constable David Cavanagh, a tactical officer, is the first member of the Toronto force to be charged with murder in the 22-year history of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit.
SIU Director Ian Scott laid a charge of manslaughter against Constable Cavanagh two months after a shooting in September, 2010. On Thursday the agency, which investigates deaths and serious injuries involving police, announced the more serious charge.
“After consultation with the Crown Law Office-Criminal, Director Scott has now caused a charge of second-degree murder ... to be laid against the officer,” the agency said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the provincial Attorney-General’s Office would not elaborate on the basis for the upgraded charges, noting that doing so could be interpreted as interfering with an ongoing case.
Julian Falconer, the lawyer representing the victim’s relatives, said the news of the more serious charge was “nothing for the family to celebrate” but that they were eager to have “the right questions” asked in court.
“It’s a great relief to the family that there’s going to be a trial,” he said.
They are concerned, he added, that the prosecution get the resources needed to pursue the case thoroughly. “I can tell you the union will be pouring money into this,” he said.
Police have been careful to shield Constable Cavanagh from the media. A small group of officers clustered in the hallway of a Toronto court building minutes before he arrived Thursday to sign his bail papers.
Just before noon, Constable Cavanagh was escorted past the criminal intake office and through a door marked Barrister's Robing Room. Dressed in a dark suit, he was flanked by police and court officers. He left the building quietly through another exit.
The head of the association representing Toronto's front-line police said he had heard no new evidence to warrant the more serious charge and wondered why it was being laid now, more than a year after the shooting.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack warned that the charges will cause police to lose faith in both the Crown's office and the SIU.
"It's absolutely absurd and insulting to all the police officers in this city," he said. "This is an officer who was doing his job with other officers. There is a discharge of a firearm - it's unheard of, in those circumstances, that anyone would suggest it was premeditated."
Police Chief Bill Blair declined comment.
“As you are well aware, that’s an SIU matter and the Police Services Act of Ontario is quite explicit in prohibiting the chief of police from commenting on those matters,” he said. “We’re well aware of them, of course, and we’ll deal with them as we must.”
The initial charge of manslaughter came after an early-morning raid in September, 2010, on Eric Osawe’s third-floor suite, near Bloor Street West and Kipling Avenue, to execute a search warrant. There was “an altercation,” according to the SIU, and Mr. Osawe was shot.
The 26-year-old was pronounced dead at St. Michael’s Hospital. His brother was arrested at the scene on weapons charges.
The Nigerian-born Mr. Osawe grew up in the Jane/Finch area and had a troubled past. He had spent time in prison but, since his release months before his death, had found work and moved to a different area.
Constable Cavanagh, who has been suspended with pay, collared one of the suspected gunmen in the Boxing Day shootout that killed Jane Creba and once helped tackle an armed man after a mid-day foot chase.
The last Toronto officer charged with manslaughter after a shooting was Constable Rick Shank, after a 1997 incident in which police surrounded the car of a suspected drug dealer on Kennedy Road. Mr. Shank was acquitted. Four officers were acquitted in the 2003 death of Otto Vass, who died from a fat embolism released in his body while he struggled with police.
A preliminary enquiry in Constable Cavanagh’s case is set for Oct. 12.
With reports from The Globe and Mail’s Tim Appleby
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