June 29, 2016
Citing an “urgent need” for improvements to police training, Ontario’s Ombudsman is calling for the province to create a regulation requiring police to deescalate and use communications techniques in all possible conflict situations before resorting to force.
Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé released “A Matter Of Life and Death” at Queen’s Park Wednesday, the result of a three-year investigation into how the ministry of community safety and correctional services trains and directs police on use of force.
His primary finding: That the Ontario government needs to use its “legal and moral authority” to take the lead in preventing police-involved shootings.
“The issue of how police are trained to handle situations of conflict with people in crisis is not a matter of academic debate. It is literally a matter of life and death, and one that has been neglected in this province for too long,” Dubé writes in the 90-page report making 22 recommendations.
The ombudman’s review was launched just days after the high-profile police shooting death of Sammy Yatim, 18, in July, 2013.
Since Yatim’s death, 19 more people were shot dead by police in Ontario. “In many cases, these were vulnerable people in crisis,” Dubé says in the report.
Dubé says people who are in crisis are dying at the hands of police not because police aren’t following their training — “it’s because they are.”
“The majority of their training focuses on exerting authority and establishing control over armed or hostile subjects, principally by drawing their weapons and yelling commands,” Dubé writes.
The investigation found problems with both the type and amount of training that Ontario police officers receive — including that constables get just 12 weeks of basic training at the Ontario Police College, far less than those elsewhere in Canada.
Among his 22 recommendations:
- The ministry create a regulation requiring police to use communications and de-escalation techniques in all conflict situations before resorting to force, wherever tactical and safety considerations permit.
- The ministry of community safety institute a new use-of-force model “that is easy to understand and clearly identifies de-escalation options.”
- The ministry should “formally and publicly” respond to all of the recommendations that come out of coroner’s inquests into police-involved deaths, and keep a complete record of actions taken in response.
- The ministry should revise edged-weapons training for recruits to stress de-escalation techniques as the first option when facing a person with an edged weapon, wherever possible.
- The ministry expand the Ontario Police College curriculum to offer more training on mental illness.
Investigators conducted 95 interviews, including with academics, psychiatrists and psychologists, family members of several people who were killed in interactions with police, and employees at the Ontario Police College, where all new police recruits are trained.
The report was produced with the help of two retired police chiefs — Vern White, former Ottawa police chief and Mike Boyd, former chief of the Edmonton police — who acted as special advisors on the investigation.
The investigators also asked for input from police services and police associations across the province.
Yatim, whose death inspired the ombudsman’s report, was shot eight times by Toronto police Const. James Forcillo while alone on a downtown Toronto streetcar, shortly after wielding a small knife and exposing himself to passengers. The shooting was captured on bystander video and quickly disseminated, prompting public outrage.
Forcillo, 33, was charged and ultimately found not guilty of second-degree murder for the first three shots that killed Yatim, but guilty of attempted murder for the second volley of six shots fired six seconds after the initial three. Superior Court Justice Edward Then is now deciding Forcillo’s sentence, set to be released in court late July.
“The latest shooting by a Toronto Police officer raises the question of whether it is time for the ministry to direct Ontario police services on how to de-escalate situations of conflict before they lead to the use of fatal force,” Marin said in a statement in August, 2013.
Shortly after the review was announced, Yatim’s family said they supported the probe.
“We are grateful that this investigation will further public dialogue on police procedures and acceptable de-escalation tactics, and that this inquiry will hopefully, finally, lead to the implementation, not just recommendation, of safe conflict resolution procedures,” read the statement.
The Ombudsman’s investigation was one of three systemic reviews of police use of force launched in the wake of Yatim’s death.
Just weeks after Yatim’s death, then Toronto police chief Bill Blair initiated an independent review of use of force within his own police service, tapping retired Supreme court justice Frank Iacobucci to conduct the recommendation.
One year later, Iacobucci released a comprehensive report making 84 recommendations, including increased training, to changes to hiring practices, to a shift in the workplace culture. Toronto police said last year they had implemented, in full or in part, 79 of the 84 recommendations.
The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), a provincial agency that reviews police complaints, also launched a systemic review of police use of force following Yatim’s death — only the second systemic review launched by the OIPRD since its inception in 2009.
Rosemary Parker, spokesperson for the OIPRD, said in an email that the agency expects to release the first of two parts of the review this fall, and the second in early 2017.