Justice denied: The Yatim trial.

At one time the Toronto police force was among the most respected in Canada. It had the overwhelming support and trust of the citizens it served. That is no longer true. The trial of Constable James Forcillo for murdering Sammy Yatim has told Toronto citizens that the police consider themselves above the law.

The lesson of the trial is that it is alright to shoot a drugged young man for not doing what the police were telling him to do. He was given less than a minute to comply with instructions to drop a penknife and come down out of the streetcar. The jury decided that it was alright to shoot Sammy Yatim three times—and kill him.

But it was not alright to shoot him six more times. That, the jury opined, was attempted murder—even though Sammy Yatim was already dead. It took the jury six days of deliberations to come to that conclusion. You can just imagine the arguments in the jury room over that stroke of genius.

What is particularly galling in this situation is that the Toronto Police are closing ranks around their still-being-paid fellow constable Mr. Forcillo. It seems that police union boss Mike McCormack believes in the Nuremberg Defence. What that means is that Forcillo says he was only doing what he was trained to do. That means his defence for murder is that he was doing what he was told. To accept that defence, the courts would be denying international legal principles more than half a century old.

The best weasel of all in this fiasco is the stand taken by current Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders who claimed that the verdict showed that Toronto police are responsible to their public. He went on to say that the police are considering changing how they train officers. And if that is how they have been training police then more than Chief Saunders should be fired.

The disappointing note in all of this is the impact it is having on many of the youth in our cities. The message they are getting is that the police believe they can use lethal force at their discretion.

You can compile a long list of misdeeds by police but you need to remember that real reform starts at the top. We have many effective and competent police officers in Canada. They are desperately in need of good leadership.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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