Image description: A close-up shot of a side-facing Toronto police officer, from chin to mid-torso. Attached to their uniform just below the shoulder is a small black camera with a forward-facing screen. (Image credit: TPS)
As you’ve no doubt heard if you live in Toronto, James Forcillo, the cop who shot and killed Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013, was found guilty this week – not of murder, but of attempted murder.
It’s a sad but true fact that no cop has ever been convicted of murder in Ontario, and many legal observers expected that, given the legal system’s built-in lenience towards killers in uniforms, Forcillo was likely to get off scot-free. It’s better than nothing, a lot of folks are saying. At least he was found guilty of something.
While I see where this argument is coming from, it feels defeatist to me. It feels like it gives up too easily, resigns itself to a certain level of police brutality and impunity.
James Forcillo murdered Sammy Yatim. He had a vast variety of options at his disposal short of shooting and killing the disturbed teenager, and he tried literally none of them. Sammy Yatim’s death was tragic, senseless, entirely unnecessary. In finding Forcillo not guilty on a charge of second-degree murder, the jury was essentially saying that his actions were justifiable. That this is possible, that we aren’t able to legally hold police to higher standards than the general population, is a travesty.
As for the precedent this trial sets, it’s hard to say. Police union president Mike McCormack is convinced that it will have a chilling effect on officers, will make them more hesitant to act in volatile situation, will make us all less safe. There’s a lot of bullshit in the way he’s spinning that, but maybe it’s true that cops will feel slightly less trigger-happy knowing that they may actually face (gasp!) consequences.
To date, the most significant consequence of the Yatim shooting is the implementation of a few key recommendations made by an inquiry into his death by Frank Iacobucci, a retired Supreme Court justice. One of these recommendations was the use of body cameras by frontline Toronto police officers, and a pilot program was launched last May.
In this article, I argued that body cameras are a solution in search of a problem (in that we don’t lack for footage of abusive cops, taken by civilians or surveillance cameras or dash cameras), that they are problematic and prone to abuse, and that body cameras do literally nothing to address the actual root causes of police brutality. Continue Reading