Toronto confronts police in wake of Sammy Yatim shooting

Citizens march after 18-year-old is shot and killed by cop

Michelle Siu/CP

The G-20 protests that left downtown Toronto in a bit of a daze in June 2010 had people asking questions about their police force. The sheer money spent on security— the infamous fence that surrounded the summit, and packs of police on every corner—was one thing. Then, a weekend’s worth of video evidence laid bare the tactics police used to contain protests and apprehend protesters.

Incidents across Toronto’s core culminated in the kettling of a demonstration at Queen and Spadina, and the temporary arrest of hundreds of people, protester and bystander alike. Ask anyone on the street in Toronto these days if the police went too far on that June weekend, and you’ll find plenty of nodding heads.

But that condemnation, as popular and immediate as it was, stopped short of unanimous. Some people sided with the cops—maybe no one who actually confronted the police, but residents of the city nonetheless.

Not so in Toronto as the city absorbs the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim by an unnamed police officer, apparently several times in short order, after Yatim allegedly brandished a knife on an empty streetcar. This morning, try to find a quote in any newspaper that gives the cop the benefit of the doubt, and you will fail. That doesn’t mean shoddy reporting, of course. The police chief, Bill Blair, spoke yesterday. He was careful not to name the officer. He didn’t defend, nor did he condemn.

(Worth noting: I’m writing this from Ottawa, not Toronto, so am considering the coverage from a distance.)

Most papers give huge play to a vigil that marched to the site of the streetcar showdown. Yatim’s mother, sitting at the spot where her son was killed, strikes a powerful image. Yesterday, Blair was candid, if brief, as he explained the force will co-operate with an SIU probe into Yatim’s death. “I am aware of the very serious concerns that the public has,” he said. “I know that people are seeking answers as to what occurred, why it happened, and if anything could have been done to prevent the tragic death of this young man.”

The Toronto Star quoted a police critic, a mental health expert and a city councillor who condemned the police action. Alok Mukherjee, the chair of the police board, told The Globe and Mail that his “first impression was one of total surprise and bewilderment” at how rapidly the situation on the streetcar escalated.

The unnamed police officer is without a public voice, and YouTube evidence of the incident has proved further isolating. The officer’s side of the story will eventually emerge, but for now an angry city confronts a police force it’s convinced has to right a very public wrong.

UPDATE: Both the Toronto Police Services Board and Yatim’s family have released statements.

The first paragraph from the TPSBThe Toronto Police Services Board extends its sincere sympathy to the family of Sammy Yatin at this time of their grievous loss. The Board also very much recognizes the serious concerns expressed by members of the community at large as a result of this tragic death. Like Mr. Yatin’s family and other Torontonians, the Toronto Police Services Board seeks to understand the tragic events that transpired on July 26, 2013 in order that appropriate action can follow. For this reason, the Board notes with approval Chief Blair’s unequivocal commitment to do his part to obtain the answers that we are all seeking.

The first paragraph from Yatim’s family: We would like to thank the public for all their support and understanding at this time. As you can imagine our lives have been turned upside down since the unimaginable events that occurred in the early morning hours this past Saturday and the death of our beloved son Sammy. There are no good words or sentiments that we can express that will embody how we feel right now. We are heart-broken, confused and still in a state of shock. The outpouring of support that our family has received from Torontonians and the entire country has been tremendous. Thank you to all who have reached out to us and helped us shoulder this pain. We are living a nightmare we can’t seem to wake up from.

What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with the public outcry after 18-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot and killed by police on a Toronto streetcar. The National Post fronts allegations that a Canadian who was supposed to provide logistical support to a Bulgarian bus bombing may have detonated the bomb himself. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with charges of inadequate police training in the wake of Yatim’s death. The Ottawa Citizen leads with provincial Liberals’ apparent attempts to convince the speaker of the legislature to reverse a contempt finding against the government. iPolitics fronts the increasingly wide-reaching effects overseas of Canada’s foreign service officer strike. leads with uncertainty about the popularity of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s call to legalize marijuana. CTV News leads with an explosion at a Florida gas plant that left seven people in hospital. National Newswatch showcases former Ontario cabinet minister George Smitherman’s column in The Huffington Post that explains why he won’t run in the Toronto Centre byelection.

Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Hostage. A Canadian employee of Braeval, a Toronto mining company with operations in Colombia, will be released by rebel group ELN in exchange for mining rights in the country. 2. Suicide. Elderly Canadians, and particularly men over the age of 85, have a higher risk of suicide than most other age groups—a risk exacerbated by an apparent lack of available treatment.
3. Kevin Page. The former parliamentary budget officer will teach public administration at the University of Ottawa and help establish a new fiscal studies institute to mirror his past work. 4. Extortion. Two women in Laval, Que., were charged with extortion, break and enter, and conspiracy related to a scandal that forced the resignation of interim mayor Alexandre Duplessis.
5. Iraq. At least 60 people died in 17 separate incidents in Iraq on Monday, increasing the monthly death toll in the country to 680—most of which came after Ramadan commenced on July 10. 6. Sex trade. The FBI freed 105 American children, mostly girls, caught in the sex trade in 76 cities across the country. Police also arrested 150 pimps in a three-day sweep.

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