The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed the appeal of ex-Toronto police officer James Forcillo who shot and killed 18-year-old Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013, ending the years-long court battle that sparked outrage over the use of force by Toronto’s police service.
Forcillo was convicted in 2016 of attempted murder in the death of Yatim, who was shot a total of eight times by Forcillo on an empty streetcar on Dundas Street downtown Toronto in July of 2013. Forcillo was one of the first officers to arrive shortly after Yatim had drawn a small knife and exposed himself, prompting the driver and passengers to swiftly exit onto the street. He was the only officer to fire his gun.
The first volley of three shots by Forcillo included the bullet that fatally wounded Yatim. As Yatim was laying on his back, Forcillo fired a second volley of six shots, which resulted in Forcillo’s attempted murder conviction. He was sentenced to six years in prison for that offence.
This case was a rare instance in which a Canadian police officer was convicted of crimes related to a death perpetrated while on duty. It was also unique because much of the confrontation was caught on video.
"It's done," Yatim's mother, Sahar Bahadi, told The Toronto Star on Thursday after the Supreme Court announced the dismissal. “Still, nothing will compensate me. I lost my son, and nothing will bring him back to me.”
Forcillo, who has since resigned from the police force, had originally been charged with second-degree murder in connection to the first volley, but was acquitted.
Earlier this year, Forcillo applied to have the Supreme Court hear his case after a unanimous decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld his conviction and prison sentence. His lawyer attempted to argue that the shooting should not have been separated into two distinct charges — second-degree and attempted murder — as it happened all at once.
Forcillo’s lawyers attempted to urge the Supreme Court to examine the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum criminal sentence applied to his case.
“A distinguishing feature of this case … is the appellant’s egregious breach of trust in using lethal force against a person who was not an imminent threat,” the appeal court stated in its decision.
Yatim’s father, Bill, released a statement at that time saying he was “very relieved” by the decision. "I am grateful that the conviction and original six-year sentence is being upheld. Still, Mr. Forcillo has shown no remorse," he wrote.
The killing of Sammy Yatim brought about public outrage over the use of force by police officers, especially when dealing with people in emotional distress.
In 2016, Ontario’s ombudsman released a report spurred by Yatim’s death that called for regulation requiring that police utilize communication and de-escalation techniques prior to using force in situations of conflict. It was one of three systematic reviews of the Toronto Police’s use of force commenced as a result of Yatim’s death.
A CBC investigation found that most Canadians killed during encounters with police officers had mental health or substance use issues or both.
Data retrieved and analyzed by the CBC revealed that more than 460 people across Canada have died during confrontations with police officers since 2000.
Cover image of James Forcillo at a court appearance in 2016.The Canadian Press/Chris Young.