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July 31, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 31, 2013

OFL Says the Toronto Police Services Board’s Failure to Follow Report Recommendations Led Directly to Death of Sammy Yatim

(TORONTO, ON) – The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) called the police shooting of Sammy Yatim a total failure of the Toronto policing system. In the wake of the fatal shooting of the distressed teen, the OFL is calling for an independent investigation and a total overhaul of police training and response to mental illness.

“Just like the police response to the G20 in 2010, this incident is a failure of the entire policing system, from the Police Services Board to the Chief and right down to the front lines,” said OFL President Sid Ryan. “The dangerous consequences of police over-reactions to mental illness has been thoroughly examined and a road map for reform has already been written, yet none of this made any difference on the streets of Toronto last Saturday. One more life has been senselessly lost.”

In 2002, a ground-breaking conference organized by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and co-sponsored by numerous community agencies and organizations, including the Toronto Police Service, produced a definitive report called “Saving Lives: Alternatives to the Use of Lethal Force by Police.” The report’s 27 recommendations cover everything from changing police attitudes to crisis containment and conflict resolution. However, the several police shootings in the years since are evidence that the vast majority of recommendations are not being followed.

“It is a total breakdown in the policing system. All of the best advice of the experts is being ignored,” said Ryan. “Years ago, community outrage at police killings resulted in the introduction of tasers as an alternative to guns. The sad irony is that last weekend, Toronto police used a taser on someone in the midst of mental distress only after shooting him multiple times.”

As details of the incident emerge, questions regarding the handling of the situation continue to grow, including concern over the use of deadly force by Toronto police against the Syrian-born youth who, by all accounts, did not pose any immediate threat to officers or bystanders.

“This 18-year-old boy did not have to die,” said OFL Executive Vice-President Irwin Nanda. “Thanks to the graphic video evidence available, we can see the events unfold, but we are left with many questions about why this incident resulted in tragedy. Who was in charge of the scene? Why didn’t officers try to de-escalate the situation before responding with deadly force? Why was a Mobile Crisis Unit not called in? Why didn’t the Emergency Task Force take control of the scene? Why is only one officer being investigated when a second officer tasered the victim after he was shot? All of these questions allude to a systemic problem with the overall police response.”

At least a dozen people in mental crisis have been shot by Toronto police over the past twenty years. The Ontario Federation of Labour believes that change is only going to come when the entire police culture is changed and when the Toronto Police Service Board fully implements and follows the recommendations of the “Saving Lives” report, to which it was a signatory.

Concerned community members will hold a rally outside the Toronto Police Services Board at 40 College Street at 1:00 pm on Tuesday, August 13, 2013.

“Our hearts and condolences go out to the Yatim family but if any good can come from these tragic events, let it be that not another life is lost in vain,” said Nanda.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow the OFL on Facebook and Twitter: @OFLabour.

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For further information:

Joel Duff, Communications Director, OFL: 416-707-0349 (cell)    *FRENCH/ENGLISH*

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  • Irwin Nanda
  • mental illness
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  • Police Services Board
  • Sammy Yatim
  • Sid Ryan
  • Toronto Police Service
  • Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR)
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