The lawyer for a former Toronto police officer convicted in the shooting of Sammy Yatim on a streetcar has lost his bid to have a coroner’s inquest consider the teen’s death a possible case of “suicide by cop.”
Mr. Yatim was shot several times during a mental-health crisis on July 27, 2013.
After years of criminal proceedings in the case, a coroner’s inquest was scheduled to begin in November. But the hearings were postponed at the last minute after the lawyer for former Toronto police constable James Forcillo – who was convicted of attempted murder – submitted a motion asking that the inquest’s scope be expanded.
Bryan Badali said the inquest should allow the hearings to “address the issue of whether Mr. Yatim provoked a fatal police response as an instance of ‘suicide by cop.’” He argued that text messages and search history from Mr. Yatim’s phone should be included as evidence in order to understand his state of mind before the fatal confrontation.
In addition to coming up with recommendations to prevent similar deaths, inquest juries also determine the manner of death. Omitting that evidence, Mr. Badali argued, would “tip the scales in favour of a homicide finding.”
The inquest’s presiding officer rejected the application in a ruling issued Thursday. David Cameron wrote that it is unnecessary to explore the phenomenon of suicide by cop – a term he said he finds “troubling and demeaning to everyone involved in such interactions.”
“As I have found that there is no evidentiary foundation for the assertion that Mr. Yatim intended to cause his death by way of an interaction with police, I decline to admit expert evidence on this issue at this inquest,” he wrote.
Mr. Cameron ruled that the inquest’s scope already allows the jury to consider Mr. Yatim’s state of mind leading up to the night of his death and his behaviour during the confrontation, but old text messages and internet search history would be of little value.
“I find it would be unhelpful for a jury and would unduly divert them from their purpose,” he wrote.
Mr. Yatim’s death sparked public outrage after video footage emerged showing Constable Forcillo shooting him multiple times – continuing to do so even as the 18-year-old lay dying on the floor of the streetcar.
Police were called after Mr. Yatim, in a mental-health crisis, pulled out a small knife on the streetcar and exposed himself. By the time Const. Forcillo arrived, the teen was alone on the streetcar. After Const. Forcillo shot him, another officer used a taser on the fallen teen.
Const. Forcillo was acquitted of second-degree murder but convicted of attempted murder for the second volley of shots.
He was later also convicted of perjury for claiming to be living with his former wife while out on bail, awaiting his appeal, when he had in fact moved in with his new fiancée. He was sentenced to 6½ years for both offences and is now out on parole.
A new start date for the inquest has not been set.
Asha James, a lawyer for Mr. Yatim’s mother – who, along with Toronto police and others with standing at the inquest, opposed the motion – said her client was pleased with Mr. Cameron’s decision and was hopeful the inquest would be rescheduled soon.
“We are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of his death this summer, and it’s time that we have public review and scrutiny of the decisions made that day by members of the police service,” Ms. James wrote in an e-mail.
Mr. Badali said he was pleased the decision made it clear the inquest can explore Mr. Yatim’s state of mind.