TORONTO — A report by a former Supreme Court of Canada justice into the use of lethal force by Toronto police has made 84 sweeping recommendations which, if implemented, would mean far more training and support for officers dealing with those in crisis.
The probe by Frank Iacobucci was sparked by the killing of a teenager on an empty streetcar last summer.
It’s being released just days before the one-year anniversary of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim’s death and comes amid a lawsuit by the teen’s family against the officer who shot him and another who tasered him as he lay dying.
In the public outrage that followed Yatim’s death, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair had asked Iacobucci last August to take a broad look at how officers interact with people in crisis and to come up with recommendations.
Among Iacobucci’s many recommendations is a suggestion that Toronto police create a comprehensive police and mental health oversight body which would help share health care information with police, including a voluntary registry with vulnerable people.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday morning, Mr. Iacobucci said the report is a blueprint for all of Canada.
“Any death at the hands of a police force is a failure of the system,” he said.
“The target should be zero deaths,” he said, adding that every recommendation in the report is “doable.”
But Iacobucci said police cannot solve the issue alone and that mental health services are often sorely lacking.
Police Chief Bill Blair is already taking action, he said, and is setting up a wide-reaching advisory committee to implement the report.
The police chief said he has, in the past few days, reached out to mental health experts, civil liberty groups and other stakeholders who had agreed to work collaboratively on the issue.
“This report will be implemented,” he said.
“It will not gather dust, it will gain momentum. It’s a roadmap for way forward… we want to be international leaders in this.”
The 346-page report also recommends the force “more proactively and comprehensively educate officers” on mental health resources and give every officer a point of contact in the mental health system they can contact for advice.
There are also recommended changes to the city’s Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams, which currently only operate within limited hours.
Iacobucci recommended having the teams notified of every call involving a person in crisis and also recommended the police force develop a pilot Crisis Intervention team to complement the program, with the aim of being able to provide a specialized response to those in crisis around the clock.
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The report also recommends Toronto police consider conducting a pilot project to assess the potential for expanding Tasers to a selection of front line officers who would have to be equipped with body-worn cameras while carrying them.
The report additionally recommends that the force issue body-worn cameras to all officers who may encounter people in crisis to ensure greater accountability and transparency.
A number of recommendations focus on the selection of police officers, with Iacobucci suggesting all new constables required to compete a mental health first aid course.
He also recommended that while hiring, preference be given to applicants who have community services experience, past involvement related to the mental health community and higher education.
The review involved more than 100 interviews and the analysis of more than 1,200 documents, as well as submissions from the public. It also examined Ontario coroners’ inquest recommendations and interviewed experts from the U.S. and the U.K. to seek best practices.
Iacobucci noted that his report was not about laying blame on anyone but rather was meant to consider how lethal outcomes can be prevented in the future.
“The premise of the report is that the target should be zero deaths when police interact with a member of the public,” he wrote.