Oct 15, 2013
By Jane Brown
Use of force by Toronto Police and how front line officers deal with the mentally ill will be the focus of a coroner’s inquest which begins today. The inquest centres on the deaths of three Toronto residents who were gunned down by police in similar circumstances over the past three years. All were thought to be experiencing mental health issues when they approached officers with sharp objects.
Michael Eligon was 29 when he died in February of last year, after fleeing from Toronto East General Hospital dressed in a hospital gown and armed with two pairs of scissors. Toronto lawyer Peter Rosenthal is representing the man’s family. “These situations where there’s no immediate threat to anybody, there’s no excuse for a police officer to just yell at the person and threaten to shoot,” Rosenthal explains, “as opposed to trying to make some real contact, trying to establish some positive raport, which might well de-escalate the situation.” Rosenthal believes officers should be disciplined if they don’t try to calm an individual down first before threatening to shoot.
Today’s inquest follows a separate incident in Toronto this past summer, when 18-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot and killed by a police officer while on an empty TTC streetcar on Dundas Street. The incident was caught on smartphone video and posted online, sparking public outrage about the use of force by police.