It was like the bad old days of police-community relations in the 10th-floor offices of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations Tuesday. There the families of police shooting victims past (Trevor Graham, Byron Debassige, Levi Schaeffer, Sylvia Klibingaitis, O'Brien Christopher- Reid) relived their horror stories for the assembled media. Tears were shed. Emotions ran high. Questions were asked. Why isn't more being done to investigate Yatim's shooting? Why is only one officer, 14 Division Constable James Forcillo, being investigated when a second on the scene tasered Yatim after he'd been shot? The ghosts of past police-community battles swirled around the room.
Family members of Sammy Yatim and other historic victims of Ontario police shootings are demanding an independent investigation into police training, policies and practices following the death of the 18-year-old aboard a Toronto streetcar last month.
The comments came at a news conference Tuesday morning arranged by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.
The families have allied with the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations to keep the pressure on for change. The federation also wants the Ontario government to mandate uniform approaches to dealing with mentally disturbed people.
The groups held a news conference ahead of a noon-hour rally where demonstrators demanded police forces finally head longstanding calls to train officers in better techniques to de-escalate confrontational situations without using deadly force.
Despite this, some groups remain concerned that the policies taught are not always being transferred to the field. The Urban Alliance on Race Relations has called for the creation of a civilian, arms-length body that would “monitor the training that every single police officer receives … and ensure compliance,” said Gary Pieters, the group’s president.
On July 31, the OFL issued a media release calling the Yatim shooting the result of a “total breakdown in the policing system” and demanding an independent investigation into police training, policies and practices from the highest levels of decision-making right down to the front line response. The OFL statement asked why the recommendations of a ground-breaking 2002 report of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, which was co-sponsored by the Toronto Police Service, were never followed. The report, titled “Saving Lives: Alternatives to the Use of Lethal Force by Police,” contained recommendations covering everything from changing police attitudes to crisis containment and de-escalation of violent confrontations.
As leaders of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, we are bewildered, saddened and concerned by the police shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in downtown Toronto.
Were it not for several smartphone videos shot by “citizen journalists” at the scene, the public would not even be aware of the disproportionately brutal response from the officer who fired nine bullets in 15 seconds, followed by a taser.
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.
Some 500 youths across the GTA are now knowledgeable to help others bring about positive changes with respect to gender-based violence and community safety.
With funding through organizations such as the Status of Women, the City of Toronto and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) ended a three-year project working with young people in marginalized communities.
Last weekend, the UARR brought together participants and a number of community representatives at a conference titled Making Noise to explore manifestations of violence they face using art forms such as multi-media expressions and spoken word performances.