The Independent Investigations Office (IIO), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in British Columbia, is investigating the death of a man during an encounter with police in which shots were fired by police. Publicly available details are sketchy at the moment but it is suggested by the IIO that RCMP responded to a report of a distraught man threatening to harm himself outside a home in Port Coquitlam, Metro Vancouver, Sunday June 18, 2017. The IIO statement is unclear and suggests only that the man fired shots into the air, yet there is an investigation into whether his injuries were self-inflicted. Police are said to have fired weapons during the encounter and the victim was found dead after RCMP fired.
Tag Archives: Human Rights
The Special Investigations Unit, the institution that investigates cases of police harm to civilians in Ontario, is examining the death of a Smiths Falls, Ontario man who apparently shot himself after receiving a phone call from a police officer threatening arrest for undisclosed reasons. On June 3, 2017, an officer of the Ontario Provincial Police phoned the man and spoke to him of a pending arrest, according to the SIU media release. At about 3:20 PM that same day, the man called 911, reporting that he had suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Paramedics and police responded and the man was airlifted to the Civic Hospital in Ottawa. He would die there of his injuries on June 9, pronounced dead at 7:47 PM. The SIU has assigned three investigators and two forensic investigators to examine the circumstances of the man’s death. Nothing has been released publicly about the nature of the police call to the man or the reasons such a call might have been made or such an approach taken by police.
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.
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, 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.
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.
Killer Cop James Forcillo Appeals Conviction for Killing Sammy Yatim on Bogus “Suicide by Cop” Claim
The notion of “suicide by cop” is a phony construct devised as a cynical ruse to excuse killer cops and get them off the hook when they kill civilians. The problems with this notion have been detailed and analyzed repeatedly in this project. Applied after the fact and in a range of instances, including those in which the cop killed someone who posed no threat to police or the public, the excuse covers up killings which are in no way suicides. If a police officer chooses to shoot someone who is isolated from the public and poses no threat to anyone, that is not suicide. If the cop has a choice not to kill, that killing is not a suicide. Saying it is denies the dignity of the victim who has not chosen to end their own life. It has been consciously ended for them. Without consent. Suicide by cop is in these cases purely propagandistic.
Yet killer cops, their departments, and police associations routinely trot this piece of copaganda out in diverse circumstances. Such is the case of Toronto Constable James Focillo who shot 18-year-old Sammy Yatim multiple times while the youth was all alone and readily contained on an inoperative and empty streetcar. Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to six years in prison for the 2013 killing of Yatim. Forcillo is now appealing his conviction on the basis that testimony arguing for “suicide by cop” in Yatim’s case was excluded from the trial. The testimony was provided from cop “criminologist” Rick Parent of Simon Fraser University who has built a tidy side career on justifying “suicide by cop” claims by his colleagues who kill.
The suicide by cop claim is ludicrous in this case. First, Yatim was alone and contained and posed no threat to the public or police. Secondly, Forcillo fired two distinct volleys of multiple shots at the youth, pausing before shooting the second volley even after the young man had fallen dead from the first round of shots. Clearly not a suicide. Forcillo had multiple opportunities not to shoot and to stop shooting. There is no way to construe that as a suicide on Yatim’s part.
Forcillo, who is currently on bail pending the appeal, is asking for a not guilty verdict or a new trial. Forcillo is asking the appeal court, which is set to hear his case this fall, to substitute a not-guilty verdict or order a new trial. The killer cop is also seeking a declaration that his mandatory minimum sentence for attempted murder is unconstitutional, and seeks a suspended sentence. Absent these outcomes he wants his sentence reduced to the minimum of five years.
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.
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