Unless his lawyer wins a stay of sentence, Toronto cop James Forcillo will spend four years in prison for pumping too many shots into drug-crazed teen Sammy Yatim.
Before you read any further, watch the video (the Globe and Mail has the best edit). I had to watch it half a dozen times to get a clear idea of what happened that July evening in 2013. Stripped to basics, the video shows Yatim clearing out a TTC streetcar with his breast-grabbing, penis-exposing, knife-waving antics, then waiting for the police. Sometimes he’s immobile, other times pacing, but never making a move to leave the vehicle. When they arrive, the cops order the kid to drop the knife. Yatim takes a couple of steps toward the back of the streetcar, then moves into the doorway.
We see two, then three police officers 20-30 feet from the door. One of the cops has already assumed a firing stance. He drops Yatim with a three-shot volley. The shooter fires six more times. We see Yatim’s foot in the frame, jerking as five of the shots strike him.
It was on the basis of this video and weeks of testimony that the jury concluded Forcillo didn’t murder Yatim. They determined that Forcillo’s initial three-shot volley was in self-defence, so they did not find him guilty on the unpremeditated murder charge even though those first three shots killed Yatim.
We’ll never know for sure, but I think we can assume the jurors decided they had to find Forcillo guilty of something. So they got him for the attempted murder of the kid he’d already killed.
Thanks to the Harper government, attempted murder carries a four-year minimum sentence, which is why Forcillo’s lawyer proposes to challenge the constitutionality of mandatory minimums. Given the Supreme Court’s allergy to anything the Harper Tories rammed through Parliament, I’ll be interested to see how they deal with this.
The video I saw showed the execution of a skinny strung-out kid by a burly cop armed with the latest perp-stopping technology. It took me back to the first time I saw a police execution, the ambush of two bank robbers outside a caisse populaire on the south shore by members of the SQ holdup squad. I was a rookie police reporter but I knew what I’d seen was wrong. Since then I’ve chronicled maybe a dozen police executions, beginning with the 1987 murder of Anthony Griffin by a Montreal police officer. I can’t speak for the rest of Canada but most extrajudicial execution victims in Quebec seem to be members of visible minority and cultural communities – or aboriginals.
Before you accuse me of stereotyping all police officers as stone-faced killers, understand this: Canadians have assigned the job of dealing with society’s most disturbed individuals to our police forces. Whether it’s some poor soul off his/her meds having a psychotic episode in public, sex predator, jihadi terrorist or revenge-driven ex, it isn’t you or I who answer the 911 call. I can find sympathy for some cops who kill because they’ve never been taught or equipped to do better. Others should never have been hired, let alone armed. Political complicity is the reason why cops investigate cops, why cops are ready to perjure themselves to protect a colleague. We are moving past this. But we are moving far too slowly.
The Forcillo jury came to a ridiculous verdict. There’s nothing else to call it. But they’re like Canadians everywhere, sick of watching our police departments dealing inappropriately with society’s problems. Are we better off buying our cops better guns and body armour or forcing elected officials and their top-cop appointees to move past the platitude-ridden bullshit we’ve been eating for far too long? One can only hope Canada’s top court recognizes this verdict for what it is – a call for help in stopping killer cops.