Sammy Yatim's shooting death by a former Toronto police officer was a homicide, a coroner's inquest has found more than a decade after his death.
Yatim, 18 at the time, died in a downtown Toronto hospital after he was shot several times while alone on a streetcar and holding a small knife on July 27, 2013.
His cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest, the inquest has found.
Jurors looking into the circumstances of his death made 63 recommendations on Thursday. Among them: peer intervention training for police, monitoring of police actions, standardization of best practices for police, mandatory body-worn cameras for frontline officers and support for families of people killed by police.
Yatim was hit by two volleys of shots shortly after midnight.
In 2016, the officer who shot him, then-Const. James Forcillo, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the first volley of bullets, which court heard was fatal. He was convicted of attempted murder for the second volley, which was fired when Yatim was already on the ground.
Forcillo was sentenced to six and a half years behind bars and was granted full parole in 2020.
In 2016, the officer who shot him, then-Const. James Forcillo, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the first volley of bullets, which court heard was fatal, but was convicted of attempted murder for the second volley, fired when Yatim was already on the ground. Forcillo was sentenced to six and a half years behind bars and was granted full parole in 2020. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)
The jury recommended the Ministry of the Solicitor General and all Ontario police services ensure or continue to ensure that bystander peer intervention training programs be both a mandatory component of officers' annual re-certification training and continually developed.
Training should focus on improving police culture and emphasize that officers should be made aware that they will not face repercussions if an intervention is warranted, jurors said, but also that those who fail to intervene could be accused of misconduct.
The jurors also recommended the Toronto Police Service consider the feasibility of instituting a quality assurance and audit position at every division, staffed by a police officer, to ensure "accountability, transparency and efficiency" of several compliance requirements, including reviewing body-worn camera footage.
And they recommended police services that provide body-worn cameras in Ontario should ensure all relevant footage captured is reviewed in every case where an officer completes a use-of-force report or is subjected to an internal or external conduct complaint. The jurors also said the government and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police should consider mandating body worn cameras for all front-line police officers.
As for family support, the jurors recommended the Ontario government create or augment the availability and accessibility of immediate and ongoing financial and mental health support for families of people killed or seriously injured in interactions with police.
Sammy Yatim was shot multiple times by then-Const. James Forcillo. Jurors at the inquest into the death of Yatim found that he died by homicide and the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest. (Submitted by the Yatim family)
In a message, the jurors expressed their "heartfelt" condolences to Yatim's family for their loss.
"It is our hope that the recommendations put forth from this inquest will make Ontario a better and safer place to live," the jury said.
Families should not be left behind, lawyer says
Asha James, lawyer for Yatim's mother Sahar Bahadi , said in a statement on Thursday that his death has had a "tremendous impact" on his mother, sister and father.
"In the 10 years since Sammy's death, it has been very difficult for the family to be able to navigate the mental health services that would have assisted them in dealing with their grief due to Sammy's death. Sammy's family is not in this position of their own making. It is incumbent on those with the power to take a life to ensure that families are not left behind because of their actions," James said.
James said the family is pleased the jury made recommendations about the availability and accessibility of financial and mental health support for family members.
"The goal that the Toronto Police Service has repeatedly stated in this Inquest is zero deaths. Dr. Bahadi wishes that this was in place in 2012/2013 and that Sammy's life could have been spared," James said.
Toronto police said in an email on Thursday that they welcome the recommendations and will carefully review and evaluate them.
"The death of Sammy Yatim in 2013 shaped policing for the next 10 years, and since that time, TPS has undergone significant changes in technology, training, governance and people. That includes training offered at the Toronto Police College which is now at the forefront of modern policing, such as peer intervention training," police spokesperson Stephanie Sayer said in the email.
"It is our understanding that the recommendation on peer intervention will be directed to all police services, as the jury saw the value and importance of this concept not just for TPS, but policing everywhere."