A coroner’s inquest is set to begin on Friday in Toronto into the police shooting death of a distraught teen on an empty streetcar more than 10 years ago.
The inquest will look into the circumstances surrounding the death of Sammy Yatim, 18, on July 27, 2013. The presiding jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing further deaths.
Yatim was shot several times by James Forcillo, a Toronto police constable at the time, while holding a small knife and standing alone on the streetcar on Dundas Street West west of Bathurst Street. Cellphone footage of the shooting posted online set off a wave of public outrage and calls for police reform.
Yatim was pronounced dead in hospital.
Asha James, lawyer for Yatim’s mother Sahar Bahati, said Bahati hopes the inquest will lead to changes in how police are trained in de-escalation. She would like to see police given new strategies for dealing with mental health calls.
“This inquest has been something that has been very important to Dr. Bahati because she really, really wants what happened to Sammy not happen to anyone else. And so, the coroner’s motto of ‘We speak for the dead to protect the living,’ that is something that Dr. Bahati really believes in,” she said.
“When we think about these these types of incidents where the police say, ‘We’re concerned for the safety of ourselves and for our other police officers, and for members of the public,’ usually the person that’s in distress is last on the totem pole, right? And we want to kind of change the way we’re looking at that.”
The inquest was supposed to begin in November 2022, but was delayed after Bryan Badali, the lawyer for Forcillo, brought forward a motion asking the proceeding to consider the possibility of “suicide by cop,” where a person behaves threateningly in order to trigger a lethal response from law enforcement.
The presiding coroner rejected that argument.
In a news release on Dec. 14, the coroner’s office said the inquest is mandatory under provincial law. Dr. David Cameron will be the presiding officer and Peter Napier and Grace Alcaide Janicas will be inquest counsel.
The proceedings, which will be conducted by video conference, are expected to last 13 days and to hear from about 14 witnesses.