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Cops Who Shot a Toronto Man Will Likely Be Named in an Inquest

Amid mounting pressure from Black Lives Matter activists and mental health advocates, the province announced Wednesday a public coroner's court will examine the events that led police to shoot the 45-year-old Andrew Loku.

by Hilary Beaumont
Apr 13 2016, 9:40pm

Handout photo of Andrew Loku

The names of police officers involved in the shooting of Andrew Loku are likely to come out one way or another now that Ontario has announced there will be a coroner's inquest into his death.

Amid mounting pressure from Black Lives Matter activists and mental health advocates, the province announced Wednesday a public coroner's court will examine the events that led police to shoot the 45-year-old man from South Sudan.

As news of the inquest was announced at a sit-in in downtown Toronto to support the

Indigenous community Attawapiskat, protesters cheered. Black Lives Matter protesters had joined the Indigenous activists who staged the sit-in after a wave of suicides on the reserve over the weekend prompted the chief to declare a state of emergency.

With the support of Indigenous protesters, Black Lives Matter activists staged a two-week protest outside Toronto Police headquarters, demanding among other things a coroner's inquest into Loku's death and the names of the officers involved.

"This is definitely a victory that the black community and our allies are celebrating," Black Lives Matter member Rodney Diverlus told VICE News Wednesday. "At the conclusion of tent city, we gave our officials three hundred hours to start working on our demands otherwise we would come back and I think that it's really good to hear that folks were listening and there seems to be movement toward [our demands]."

A coroner's inquest is held in a similar public courtroom to a criminal or civil case, but operates differently in that it cannot lay blame, and the jury won't be able to say whether the death could have been avoided. However, the jury can make recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths in the future.

On July 5, 2015, according to a report from the Special Investigations Unit, the police watchdog, officers responded to a 911 call at Loku's building about a man armed with a hammer and threatening to kill someone.

Officers drew their guns and repeatedly ordered Loku to drop the hammer, according to the SIU. As he came toward the officers and raised the hammer above his head, a police officer shot Loku twice in the chest, killing him, the report stated.

The eight month-long SIU investigation concluded there were no grounds for charges against the officers involved, and Toronto Police have ignored calls to release their names.

But their names are likely to come out as part of the coroner's inquest, the coroner who announced the inquest told VICE News over the phone Wednesday.

Related: This Is What Sets Toronto's Black Lives Matter Movement Apart from America's

"Never say never, but I've never heard of a case where the officer's name wasn't released," said Dr. James Edwards, regional supervising coroner for Central Region's Toronto East Office.

The officers involved will be subpoenaed, Edwards said, and they will have to testify. He had never heard of a case in which there was a publication ban on an officer's name.

Diverlus said he would attend the public inquest and looked forward to hearing information about the case, which he said has so far been shrouded in secrecy. He said the SIU report was vague on evidence and details, and said the public has not yet had access to information about Loku's death other than the "bare bones."

The coroner's inquest was part of a broader set of demands by Black Lives Matter Toronto, including the release of a video from the apartment building, charges against the officer who shot Loku, reforms to the SIU and an end to the controversial practice of carding.

While public interest is the deciding factor in whether to hold a coroner's inquest, Edwards said calls from Black Lives Matter and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) for an inquest also factored into the province's decision to hold one.

The CMHA wrote a letter to the Ontario Coroner's office last week, urging the office to conduct an inquest it believed to be in the public interest.

Supervised by the provincially-operated coroner's office, the inquest will be independent from the provincial and municipal police services, Edwards said.

The province has not yet released details on when or where the inquest will happen. The case will now be assigned to an investigator and it will take "some months" before it reaches a courtroom.

"Today is a day to celebrate but tomorrow is a day to continue on our actions and to continue to seek broader justice because one death is way too many," Diverlus said.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @HilaryBeaumont