In Toronto in 2014, there were only 24 incidents when Toronto police fired their weapons – and 20 of those involved shooting an injured animal. Toronto police shot at human suspects only three times. In a city with more than 5,000 cops and nearly three million citizens, it's a remarkable record. It's testimony to the fact that Toronto and Canada are peaceable places, and that the vast majority of Toronto police officers, and officers across Canada, understand when the law allows them to use their weapons, and when it does not.
Police are armed because there are times, however rare, when they may have no choice but to shoot. But if officers ever use force outside the bounds of the law, they themselves have broken the law, and must be held accountable to it. The police are not the law. They must be its servants. That is why Toronto Police Service Constable James Forcillo was charged with fatally shooting Sammy Yatim, and why on Monday a jury found him guilty of attempted murder.
Leaving aside the question of whether Const. Forcillo committed a crime – a question answered in the affirmative by a jury – it has long been clear that Mr. Yatim's death was unnecessary, even senseless. Mr. Yatim was not a blameless, innocent bystander: He had pulled out a small knife on a streetcar and threatened people, and they had fled. But by the time the police got there, Mr. Yatim, who was clearly not in his right mind, was alone on the streetcar, which was surrounded by well-armed officers. The goal should have been to lower the temperature and take the suspect into custody. If that had happened, Mr. Yatim would have been the one appearing before a judge and jury.
Instead, Const. Forcillo escalated the situation, issued comply-or-die orders and then used deadly force, all in a matter of seconds. Some say he went against proper police training, which teaches officers to defuse situations involving people in crisis by buying space and time. Others have argued that the officer was simply following procedure. If that's the case, police training needs a serious rethink. Sammy Yatim should never have ended up in the morgue.
The case is a reminder that, in Canada, nobody is above the law, especially those sworn to serve and protect.