It’s time for the Chief to speak up

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders (L) and Cst. James Forcillo (R)

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I've written a number of Op-Ed pieces for various newspapers, including the following:

 

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Just for Fun

 

 
Now that the Forcillo trial has gone to the jury for a verdict, order it’s time for Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders to step up and speak out.  As citizens of Toronto, click we have a right to hear directly from our police chief.  As members of the society that selected and empowered Saunders, and his 5,500 sworn police officers, with special powers of arrest and use of force, we must demand he tell us whether or not our police service endorses the testimony of accused murderer James Forcillo. 

On the witness stand and under oath, Cst. James Forcillo testified that he felt his duty as a police officer was to win the encounter with 18-year old Sammy Yatim.  His priority was to go home safely at the end of his shift.  Drawing his service pistol and pointing it at Yatim was, according to Forcillo, a “de-escalation” technique.  And, Yatim’s feeble attempt to sit up while lying down after having already been mortally shot, was an imminent threat that justified Forcillo to apply further lethal force.

Regardless of the verdict, there are some things we must know.  Does Forcible represent the norm in our police service? Is his, the ethos that pervades our police culture?  Do Toronto police officers prioritize their own safety above their duty, at any cost?  Do Toronto police officers believe they should use lethal force to “de-escalate” situations?  Is a dying man, struggling in vain to get up, enough of a threat to warrant six additional shots from a Toronto police officer?  The Chief must answer these questions.

The Chief must answer our questions. If the answer is yes, our police are way, way off the reservation. If the answer is no, Saunders must prove he shares our outrage.

If the answer is yes, then Saunders has some explaining to do.  Because, speaking as a member of the society that granted him and his officers special powers, let me be clear:  that’s not what we intended.  If the answer is yes, our police are way, way off the reservation and it’s time society revoked their powers, sent the chief packing, and started over.

If the answer is no, then Saunders needs to answer loudly and clearly.  He needs to demonstrate he shares our outrage and convince us he is the right man to eradicate the Forcillo culture from the police service he leads.  It has no place here.  More than mere platitudes, Saunders better have – and articulate – a clear plan to achieve this.  He must display a sense of urgency appropriate to a task that is, quite literally, a matter of life and death.  Lives and deaths.

It was reasonable, if entirely underwhelming, for Saunders to remain dumb during the trial.  But, the matter is now in the hands of the jury and there remain no more excuses.

If Saunders doesn’t step up and speak out; if he doesn’t grasp the reins of authority he’s been given as Toronto’s chief and lead this force back onto the right path; and if he doesn’t do so immediately, then he is not the right Chief for Toronto.  If so,the Police Services Board must begin anew the process of finding a chief who can do the job.  A chief from outside the infected Toronto Police Service culture.  A chief who has not been perverted by the ethos that perverted Forcillo.

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