Jury at inquest into police shooting of mentally ill asked to keep an open mind

TORONTO – The jury at a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of three mentally ill people gunned down by Toronto police in separate but similar incidents has been asked to keep an open mind.

Coroner’s counsel Michael Blain says the five members of the jury should remember that mental illness “is not the person,” and police officers should not be defined by their actions.

Relatives of all three people who were shot by police were present for the start of the inquest, listening on with grim expressions as Blain outlined the circumstances of each death for the jury.

Michael Eligon was 29 when he died in February of 2012 after fleeing from a Toronto hospital dressed in a hospital gown and armed with two pairs of scissors.

Twenty-five-year-old Reyal Jardine-Douglas died in August of 2010 after pulling a knife out of his bag and advancing on an officer on a public transit bus.

And 52-year-old Sylvia Klibingaitis called 911 herself in October of 2011 — saying she was going to commit a crime — before she confronted officers with a knife in her hand.

All were thought to be experiencing mental health issues when they approached officers with sharp objects.

The inquest is expected to raise questions about police use of force and how front-line officers deal with the mentally ill.

It will hear later today from a witness who will detail the training Ontario police receive, particularly when it comes to use of force.

The inquest is expected to last eight weeks and will hear from more than 50 witnesses.

A jury may make recommendations at preventing similar deaths but is not tasked with finding fault or laying any blame.

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