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Institutional Racism Finally Addressed at Inquest into Toronto Police Killing of Andrew Loku

A report published by the Toronto Star In August 2015, one month after Andrew Loku was shot and killed by Toronto police officer Andrew Doyle, found that, of the 51 fatal shootings involving the Toronto police between 1990 and 2015, at least 18 involved Black men (Gillis 2017). This represented 35 percent of fatal police shootings (Gillis 2017). In another 17 cases, or 33 percent, the racialized background of the victim of the police killing was deemed not identifiable with certainty (Gillis 2017). The population of Black people in Toronto over that time was approximately nine percent. Despite this fact there had been reluctance by some, including the coroner, as well as expected opposition from police, to address the issue of institutional racism among police head on and by name in the inquest into Andrew Loku’s killing by police.

Marianne Wright, the lawyer representing Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, said parties to the inquest “should stick to the notions which are within the scope of the inquest. I’m struggling with the emotional content of the word racism” (quoted in Gillis 2017). Others struggled with the emotional content of racism itself and the racist actions of killer cops in Toronto.

Howard Morton, the lawyer for community group Across Boundaries, a mental health organization working for racialized communities and the organization that called McKenzie as a witness, argued that there was “nothing wrong with confronting a live issue like racism. To deprive me of the use of the word racism . . . it just confounds me and I’m flummoxed to the nth degree about why we’re all afraid of that term” (quoted in Gillis 2017).

The discussion of institutional racism centered on the looming testimony of Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatrist and the director of health equity at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, who was set to address organizational practices and racism. His work argues that organizations need to acknowledge that racism exists in their institutions in order to effect change.

Coroner and inquest head Dr. John Carlisle ruled late Monday, June 19, in the third week of the inquest, that “questions of the witness will not explore the topic of racism” (quoted in Gillis 2017). That decision led to an application from Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) lawyer Selwyn Pieters requesting a reconsideration. Pieters’ application asked that McKenzie “be permitted to testify in respect to racism…particularly systemic and institutional racism” (quoted in Shahzad 2017). In his words: “It is a manifest error in the context of this case to speak of implicit bias and exclude racism. Racism is the elephant in the room in this case” (quoted in Gillis 2017). Implicit bias had been addressed by psychology professor Dr. Nicholas Rule in the inquest’s second week, but institutional racism itself had not been explicitly discussed.

Dr. Carlisle’s ruling was not overturned but council reached an agreement that discussion of institutional racism would not be prohibited. In Pieter’s words: “Today, the witness was able to be questioned unimpeded and to delve into the issue of racism, and anti-Black racism, and I think we made some headway” (quoted in Gillis 2017). He continued: “Dr. McKenzie was able to give us evidence unimpeded in respect to racism and what institutional structures need to be changed in order to foster a culturally inclusive environment that is free from racism” (quoted in Shahzad 2017).

For his part, when questioned about institutional racism at the inquest, Dr. McKenzie noted that “training by itself won’t make the difference…more has to happen throughout the institution” (quoted in Shahzad 2017). Yet policing in Canada is founded in colonial and racist violence. Policing institutions have had generations to change but no impetus to do so.

Idil Abdillahi, a former board chair for Across Boundaries, concluded: “We can’t ignore that this man was a Black man. This active refusal to engage race and racism is what we see playing out here” (quoted in Gillis 2017). It is the racism at the heart of policing in Canada.


Further Reading

Gillis, Wendy. 2017. “Final Witness Prompts Debate over Racism at Andrew Loku Inquest.” Toronto Star. June 20. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/06/20/11th-hour-motion-says-racism-must-be-discussed-at-andrew-loku-inquest.html

Shahzad, Ramna. 2017. “Expert Psychiatrist Testifies on Institutional Racism at Andrew Loku Inquest.” CBC News. June 20. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/loku-motion-racism-1.4169115


Haim Queroub, Cop in Andrew Loku Killing, Tries Bogus “Suicide By Cop” Claim

Haim Queroub, the second cop in the Toronto police killing of Andrew Loku, finally spoke publicly during the coroner’s inquest into Loku’s death. Queroub, had been on the force only 11 weeks when he and shooter Andrew Doyle encountered and killed Andrew Loku in the hallway outside his apartment on July 5, 2015. Queroub used his time on the stand to hint that Loku’s  death was a “suicide by cop.”

Queroub testified that when he and officer Doyle shouted at Andrew Loku, the distressed man said, “What ya gonna do … Come on … Shoot me.” Here Queroub is trying to plant the notion of suicide by cop, a bogus excuse that killer cops and their police associations routinely use to be let off for killing civilians under a range of situations which are not suicides. Yet, as lawyers at the inquest pointed out these words could well have been spoken as questions (asking if the cops were seriously going to kill him for standing outside his apartment with a hammer). Queroub said he could not clarify whether the words he believes he heard were actually a question. Clearly in raising this, though, he is attempting to present the possibility of “suicide by cop.”

Queroub’s testimony did confirm that the two officers had no discussion about nor plan to pursue de-escalation or to address someone potentially in distress. Incredibly both officers testified that they talked about how to get to the scene but not what they would do once they got there. There was no dialogue with Loku. Instead he was shot and killed within 21 seconds of police encountering him.

Clearly, as critics have suggested, police training is not the issue. Queroub testified he had received training both on interacting with people with mental health issues and on implicit bias when dealing with racialized people and communities. He even testified he had received de-escalation training. Yet none of these came into use when officers Queroub and Doyle encountered Andrew Loku and chose to shoot him within a mere 21 seconds. Queroub testified he did not even consider the man’s  distress or how to deal with it appropriately.

And he concluded that if he had to do it over again, he would not change anything. Police do not need to because they will not be held to account for killing civilians. And they know it. Instead phony “suicide by cop” claims, or other measures, will be used to get them off or help them to sleep at night.

Andrew Doyle Identified as Toronto Killer Cop who Shot Andrew Loku

Finally, nearly two years after Toronto police gunned down Andrew Loku, Constable Andrew Doyle has been identified publicly as the officer who pulled the trigger. Doyle took the stand Wednesday, June 14, 2017, during the second week of testimony in the coroner’s inquest into Loku’s killing by police. Doyle and Haim Queroub had only been identified as the officers involved in Loku’s killing during a previous session of the current inquest. The one who did the shooting had not been identified.

Doyle raised his firearm, pointing it at Loku, almost immediately upon encountering the man, a refugee from South Sudan. Evidence presented previously at the inquest, including the surveillance video of the encounter, shows that Loku was shot within 19 seconds of officers Andrew Doyle  and Haim Queroub encountering him. Earlier testimony from psychology professor Nicholas Rule shows implicit bias against Black men in Canadian and US contexts, including increased perceptions of threat. Community groups want the inquest to address issues of racism in the very quick deployment of lethal force against Andrew Loku, who witnesses and video suggest was not actively threatening the officers.

On the stand officer Doyle said coldly: “We’re trained to stop the threat. Two rounds stops the threat. He immediately fell to the ground. There was no need for anything else.”  Doyle said he had no training in alternative methods to disarm the man. Despite the blood pooling under Andrew Loku’s body, Doyle said his main concern was to make sure the dead man did not have another weapon.

Implicit Bias, Racism, and the Police Killing of Andrew Loku: Expert Testimony at Inquest

Coroner’s inquests in the Canadian context never get to the heart of issues like racism and policing let along fundamental structures of policing like policing and white supremacy or policing and colonialism. Such inquests are generally limited to the specific actions of a particular event. The coroner’s inquest into the Toronto police killing of Andrew Loku, a refugee from  Sudan who suffered PTSD as a result of being kidnapped and tortured there, will likely be no different. Still community groups like the Black Action Defence Committee, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Empowerment Council, and Across Boundaries, a group that provides mental health support for racialized communities in Toronto, are working to ensure larger issues of racialization, racism, and mental health are at least addressed. They have secured participant status.

On Monday, June 12, 2017, at the beginning of the inquest’s second week, the jury heard testimony from Dr. Nicholas Rule, an associate professor of psychology, and Canada Research Chair in social perception and cognition at the University of Toronto who carries out research on implicit bias. Rule was designated as an expert in social perception and cognition for the inquest. Dr. Rule’s testimony focused on issues related to implicit bias involving race or mental health status, and how this might impact the decisions made by police officers in the course of policing. According to Rule’s research, as given in his testimony to the inquest, implicit bias can make a young Black man appear taller, heavier, and, thus, more dangerous. According to Rule, this distortion of reality can affect both white people and Black people.

Rule presented results of research undertaken with two American academic colleagues examining the impact of race on the often very quick judgments people make in assessing others whom they encounter. That study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology earlier in 2017, examined people’s perceptions of Black men in terms of their size and, presumably relatedly, their threat level. The study, which included Canadian and American participants of a variety of racialized identities presented with a series of tests, concluded that regardless of their own “race,” participants perceived Black men as taller, heavier, more muscular, and more physically threatening than white men.

According to the researchers: “Black men tend to be stereotyped as threatening and, as a result, may be disproportionately targeted by police even when unarmed. Here, we found evidence that biased perceptions of young Black men’s physical size may play a role in this process” (Wilson, Hugenberg, and Rule 2017). Rule noted at the inquest that the participants in the study were not identified as police officers. The researchers did not examine possible intersections of racism and presence of a weapon.

It is likely that the notion of implicit bias is as far as the inquest will get in terms of addressing issues of and related to racism. The ongoing histories of white supremacy and colonialism in Canadian policing will likely not be on the agenda.

During the first week of the inquest, Toronto Constables Andrew Doyle and Haim Queroub were finally identified as the officers involved in killing Andrew Loku, thought which one pulled the trigger has not yet been revealed publicly. Both officers are expected to testify later during this second week of the inquest.


Further Reading

Wilson, John Paul, Kurt Hugenberg, and Nicholas O. Rule. 2017. “Racial Bias in Judgments of Physical Size and Formidability: From Size to Threat.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-pspi0000092.pdf

Andrew Doyle and Haim Queroub Identified as Toronto Cops who Killed Andrew Loku

The Toronto police officers who killed Andrew Loku on July 5, 2015, have finally been identified as Constables Andrew Doyle and Haim Queroub. They were named as the officer’s involved on July 9, 2017, during the coroner’s  inquest into Loku’s killing when police lawyer Gary Clewley asked the men to rise from their seats to be identified by a witness. Even now, however, it was not said which of the two officers shot Loku. That identification is, after all this time, expected to come during the second week of the inquest when the officers are set to testify.

Video surveillance footage of events prior to the shooting of Loku in the hallway outside his apartment shows that he was not threatening his neighbors as he has been accused of. The neighbors do not appear afraid of him and some speak with him though there is no audio in the footage. Neighbor and witness Robin Hicks claimed on the stand that she was afraid for Loku not of Loku when police arrived. The footage also shows Loku holding a hammer in a manner that does not appear to be threatening (not fully by the handle).

Still, police shot and killed Andrew Loku within 19 seconds of encountering him and within only five minutes of the 911 call that apparently brought them. Because the state protects the state, the killer cops Andrew Doyle and Haim Queroub have already been cleared by the Special Investigations Unit.

Toronto Police Killed Andrew Loku within 19 Seconds of Encountering Him

The coroner’s inquest into the police killing of Andrew Loku began in Toronto on Monday, June 5, 2017. Loku, a 45-year-old refugee from South Sudan who struggled with mental health issues after having been kidnapped and tortured there, was shot and killed by Toronto police as he stood in his apartment hallway on July 5, 2015. On Thursday, June 8, 2017, the 911 call that preceded his killing was released as part of the inquest.

The call reveals that police waited no more than 19 seconds after encountering Loku before shooting and killing him. He had stood in the hallway without harming anyone for at least four minutes and forty seconds before police arrived. The two officers, one a coach and the other a new recruit with only a few months on the job, are immediately heard on the tape telling Loku to drop his perceived weapon, a hammer he held at his side.  Indistinct noises, mostly yelling by police, follow over the 19 seconds. And then. Two very distinct gunshots.


The 911 caller, distraught: “Oh, my god. Oh, my god.”

The 911 operator: “What was that?”

The caller: “That was gunshots. Gunshots from the police officer.”

A male voice then breaks through telling everyone to stay in their apartments. This is repeated by the operator.

Then the caller, in pained recognition: “They killed him?”

The operator: “Oh, my. What?”

Then, sadly, a child, softly: “He’s dead?”


Clearly, violent force was first and foremost on the officers’ minds. There was no, even minimal, attempt to interact humanly with Andrew Loku. Never mind de-escalation, because the police were the only ones to escalate in the first place. Nineteen seconds was all they gave him.

Inquest into Killing of Andrew Loku by Toronto Police Begins (June 5, 2017)

Andrew Loku was shot and killed by a Toronto police officer on July 5, 2015. On Monday June 5, 2017 a coroner’s inquest opened into the killing. An autopsy found that Loku had been shot twice in the chest. He died of the gunshot wounds at the scene. The killing raised deeply troubling questions about the rapidity of police use of force, anti-Black racism on the Toronto force, and police mistreatment of people who may need mental health supports. Loku’s killing by the still unnamed officer sparked demonstrations by community members and Black Lives Matter movements.

The 45-year-old father of five, originally from South Sudan where he suffered kidnapping and torture, was confronted by two Toronto officers in the hallway of an apartment building on Gilbert Avenue near Rogers Road and Caledonia Road in the city’s west end. Following the killing there were calls to identify the officers involved and charge them and to release video footage of the interaction and shooting. As one close friend of Andrew Loku, Kiden Jonathan, who had been with his friend hours before he was killed, has said publicly: “We had a lot of questions, and we didn’t have any answers about what happened that night” (quoted in Gillis 2017a).

Calls for an inquest in the killing of Andrew Loku have come from many different sources. These include members of Loku’s family, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the African Canadian Legal Clinic, Alok Mukherjee, former chair of the Toronto Police Service Board, and Black Lives Matter Toronto.

The coroner’s inquest into Loku’s killing will be presided over by coroner Dr. John Carlisle. Several community groups have sought participant status in the inquest. They include the CMHA, the Black Action Defence Committee, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Empowerment Council, and Across Boundaries, a groups provides support and services to racialized communities dealing with mental health issues (Gillis 2017a).


No Accountability: A Flawed SIU Investigation

While there should be no illusions about the coroner’s inquest, and its limited scope of action, it is hoped that the inquest will provide some answers to serious questions about Andrew Loku’s killing. These include the identities of the two officers directly involved.

The officer who killed Loku had already been exonerated by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the agency that examines police harm to civilians in Ontario, in March 2016. The SIU declared the shooting “legally justified,” a typical response to police killings of civilians in Canada.

This decision drew outrage from community members, policing critics, and Black Lives Matter organizers. A space in front of Toronto Police Headquarters was occupied following the decision to clear the officer who killed Loku. Black Lives Matter Toronto held the space for 15 days in protest against ongoing racism, lack of transparency, and lack of accountability in both policing and oversight. Community members also held a vigil outside the home of Premier Kathleen Wynne, head of provincial government.

Yet, despite the SIU claim that the officer who killed Loku was worried about a hammer Loku was said to be holding, evidence suggests another story. Steve Lurie, Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto, has called for the inquest based on evidence that contradicts the SIU and police story. In his words: “We have evidence that Andrew was calm at the time of his shooting” (quoted in CBC News 2017).

Two issues call into question the conclusions of the SIU. First is the actual account of an eye witness who has said that Loku did not pose any threat to anyone at the time of his killing. According to Loku’s neighbor, Robin Hicks, who witnessed the police killing: “Andrew died right in front of me. There was no reason for it” (quoted in Gillis 2017a).

Second are the serious questions about surveillance video from the shooting.  According to police and the SIU, the video cameras at the scene were not functioning that night, and, even more curious, cut out right in the crucial moment before Loku is shot by the officer (Gillis 2017a). The video that does exist apparently shows Loku moving very slowly with the hammer down at his side, his behavior in no way threatening.

As troubling is the fact that Immediately after the shooting, a Toronto police officer tried to review and download the video (Gillis 2017a). Incredibly, this is activity that even the SIU called “improper” yet they did not probe this further in their investigation. This is more evidence of the ongoing, and unpunished, practices of police to interfere with, obstruct, and predetermine the SIU investigations. The SIU have themselves long documented and complained about such practices but there are no mechanisms used to make police comply with investigative policies and procedures (legal mechanisms ate available but are, again, rarely if ever used to hold police accountable).

The SIU’s decision renewed ongoing concerns about police oversight in Ontario. The SIU is lauded by government proponents as the “gold standard” of police oversight internationally. Yet SIU investigations have been undermined by obstruction and harassment from police, which are not properly dealt with, and plagued by a repeated lack of transparency regarding decision-making and real questions about the degree to which officers have actually been held accountable (Gillis 2017a). These problem have been documented in detail within this project.

So questionable was the SIU decision in this case that it, along with the community protests, contributed to the initiation of the provincial review of police oversight by Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch, which made recommendations around transparency and police compliance. Public concern over the case led to the unprecedented release in 2016 of the SIU director’s report into Loku’s killing. Yet that document was heavily redacted and not particularly insightful.


Intersections of State Violence: Police, Racism, and Mental Health

Toward the end of 2016 a coalition of community groups sent a letter to presiding coroner Carlisle requesting that he broaden the scope of the inquest to examine the intersecting roles of race and mental in the officer’s quick decision to view Loku as a threat and to kill him. The November 2016 submission by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Law Union of Ontario, Ryerson University’s criminology department and others notes that the inquest cannot hope to live up to its stated purpose of preventing future deaths if, in their words “Mr. Loku’s race, immigration and mental health status are kept out of the inquest process” (quoted in Gillis 2017a). Unfortunately coroner’s inquests are rather functional, examining specific circumstances of a particular death and do not analyse broader systemic issues of inequality and injustice as are in fact crucial to understanding state violence.

Some groups have requested standing in the inquest in order to raise significant questions about race and mental health that would otherwise be overlooked by such an inquest. Howard Morton, lawyer for the group Across Boundaries, explains that if granted status the group hopes to examine key issues of intersectionality. In particular there is a need to address why Black men who are suffering from mental health issues are so often the victims of fatal encounters with police officers (Gillis 2017a).

In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) leased units inside the building in which Loku was killed. The apartments provide housing for people with mental health challenges. The inquest should, at minimum, address the extent to which police officers were aware that Loku’s address was connected to the CMHA, an indication that some residents deal with mental health challenges (Gillis 2017a).

In the words of Kingsley Gilliam, a spokesperson for the Black Action Defence Committee, outside the courtroom on Monday: “He did not need to die. We need a shift in paradigm, where we shift crisis intervention away from police” (quoted in Gillis 2017b).


The Inquest

The inquest, with a jury of five members, is slated to last three weeks and hear from around 20 witnesses. The inquest has no powers and will simply make recommendations to prevent similar deaths. These are typically ignored or selectively implemented, but not necessarily practiced after implementation, by police. There can be no criminal findings and no charges can result. No findings for compensation can be offered. Inquests can lead to the naming of killer cops and are some of the only, very limited, means for doing so in the Canadian context.

Expectations for the inquest should be tempered given its limited scope and powers. There have already been numerous inquests into police violence and the killing of civilians. All that they have really done is to highlight that the police in Canada are brutal and kill a stunningly large number of people. And they kill Black people and people dealing with mental health issues with haste.

The previous inquests have made recommendations around increased de-escalation training and reducing stigmatization for people dealing with mental health issues. Training has not translated into action and, really, serves largely as window dressing for police forces and means of extra pay for officers. And, of course, we can never forget that police are instituted and officers paid to kill.


Further Reading

CBC News. 2017. “Inquest into Police Killing of Andrew Loku Begins Today.” CBC News. June 5. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/andrew-loku-coroners-inquest-starts-1.4146023

Gillis, Wendy. 2017a. “Inquest into Andrew Loku Shooting May Delve into Thorny Issues of Race and Mental Illness.” Our Windsor. June 5. https://www.ourwindsor.ca/news-story/7353409-inquest-into-andrew-loku-shooting-may-delve-into-thorny-issues-of-race-and-mental-illness/

Gillis, Wendy. 2017b. “Andrew Loku was Traumatized from Kidnapping, Torture in South Sudan.” Toronto Star. June 5. https://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2017/06/05/andrew-loku-was-excited-happy-in-weeks-before-his-death.html