Toronto police Chief Bill Blair says he has appointed retired justice Dennis O’Connor to assist the force in its review of all police practices, including use of force.
O’Connor presided over the inquiries into Ontario’s Walkerton water tragedy and the rendition and torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian of Syrian descent.
He also sat on the Ontario Court of Appeal from 1998 until last year and served as the province’s associate chief justice for more than a decade.
Blair made the announcement in a news conference this afternoon, saying he’s asked O’Connor to make recommendations and examine best practices from around the world.
It comes a day before representatives for the families of seven people killed in police shootings are set to call for action to prevent other fatal police encounters.
The family of Sammy Yatim, 18, who died last month after being shot by police on an empty streetcar, is scheduled to be among those appearing at a news conference Tuesday.
Yatim’s death sparked public outrage after it was captured on surveillance and cellphone videos in which nine shots can be heard.
The Special Investigations Unit is looking into the circumstances of Yatim’s death and Blair has said he would be conducting a separate probe to see if police procedures and training were followed.
Yatim’s family released a statement Monday.
“We were pleased to learn of Chief Bill Blair’s decision today to initiate a more in depth review into police procedure and training as a result of Sammy’s case and the other similar incidents that have occurred in the past several years.
We feel that the involvement of Justice Dennis O’Connor will help provide some assurance of transparency and commitment to create improved protocols through his investigation. The Yatim family hopes to participate in the inquiry and welcomes this initiative by Chief Blair.”
Const. James Forcillo has been suspended and the Toronto Police Association president has urged the public not to jump to conclusions.
Following Yatim’s death, Blair said he understood the public had many questions about police conduct.
“I recognize that there is a need for answers and that the public quite rightfully expects that the matter will be thoroughly investigated. I want to assure you all that this will be done,” he said at the time.
“The public also has a right to demand that the Toronto Police Service examine the conduct of its officers to ensure that its training and procedures are both appropriate and followed. This will be done.”
Ontario’s ombudsman has also launched an investigation, probing what kind of direction the provincial government provides to police for defusing conflict situations.
Andre Marin has said Yatim’s shooting raises the question of whether it’s time for Ontario to have consistent and uniform guidelines on how police should de-escalate situations before they lead to the use of force.
Many coroner’s inquests into similar deaths over the past 20 years have made recommendations that are almost “carbon copied from each other,” he said, such as increasing police training.
A coroner’s inquest into similar police-related deaths will also get underway this fall.