One day after Sammy Yatim's parents mourned the third anniversary of his shooting, a judge sentenced the Toronto police officer convicted of attempted murder to six years in federal prison – an unprecedented conviction and sentence for a Canadian police officer involved in an on-duty shooting death.
The 18-year-old's death aboard a city streetcar in July, 2013, sparked multiple protests and strained public faith in the country's largest municipal police force. Three years later, the sentencing of Constable James Forcillo, who fired nine shots at the knife-wielding teen, comes at a time of heightened public scrutiny of policing practices across North America.
The moment Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Then finished reading his 32-page decision, Constable Forcillo stepped briskly toward two court officers, among whose ranks he once worked, and placed his hands behind his back.
"This isn't a day to celebrate," said Julian Falconer, a lawyer for Mr. Yatim's family.
"But at the same time, there is a significance to today because it reflects the fact that there may be some equality under the law, that maybe police, today, just once, are as accountable as the rest of us."
Though the proceedings had an air of finality, Constable Forcillo's current stint in custody could be short-lived. A judge will rule on Friday morning on an application for bail pending appeal. If the application is successful, Constable Forcillo could remain free until his appeal case is heard, likely next spring.
Outside the court, Mr. Yatim's family said no sentence could offer satisfactory reparation for the loss of their son.
"He [Constable Forcillo] destroyed our family," said Sahar Bahadi, Mr. Yatim's mother. "He will destroy our life. But he didn't show any kind of remorse."
The president of the Toronto Police Association, Mike McCormack, said the decision marked a "tragic day for the Forcillo family, for the Yatim family, for the community and for policing."
Shortly after the decision was read, police Chief Mark Saunders announced Constable Forcillo, a 33-year-old father of two, would be suspended without pay.
Justice Then made it clear from the outset that he had "no choice" but to reject Mr. Forcillo's constitutional challenge of the five-year mandatory minimum sentence that accompanies attempted-murder convictions. His lawyers had argued that the minimum was "overly broad" and inappropriate for an officer armed to protect the public.
Justice Then turned to dissecting the evidence and explaining why a jury had acquitted the officer of second-degree murder while convicting him of attempted murder.
The acquittal, he explained, applied to the first volley of three shots that, according to testimony, actually killed Mr. Yatim. "Officer Forcillo had reasonable grounds to believe it was necessary to shoot Mr. Yatim in order to preserve himself and those under his protection from death or grievous bodily harm," Justice Then said.
But after that initial barrage, Constable Forcillo paused for six seconds before squeezing off another six shots. The officer testified that Mr. Yatim had dropped his knife and fallen to the floor of the streetcar after the first three shots before rearming himself and rising to a 45-degree angle as if to renew an attack.
Ample video evidence showed that Mr. Yatim made no such rising motion. Justice Then said this made the teen a "potential threat" but not an "imminent threat" and the officer was trained not to shoot in such circumstances.
"All of the shots in the second volley were not only contrary to his training, but unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive," he said.
For Justice Then, all of this added up to "an egregious breach of trust."
In one of his final remarks, Justice Then sought to address the issue of public faith in policing. "I wish to emphasize that the sentence I am about to impose should not be taken to reflect adversely on the well-deserved reputation of the Toronto Police Service as a whole," he said.
"However, when a police officer has committed a serious crime of violence by breaking the law, which the officer is sworn to uphold, it is the duty of the court to firmly denounce that conduct in an effort to repair and to affirm the trust that must exist between the community and the police to whom we entrust the use of lethal weapons within the limits prescribed by the criminal law."