Canada’s top court has refused to hear an appeal from a Toronto police officer jailed for the shooting of a teenager on an empty streetcar five years ago.
In a decision released on Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Const. James Forcillo leave to appeal his conviction and sentence.
“My family and I are beyond relieved by the decision of Canada’s highest Court to deny Mr. Forcillo’s latest effort to appeal his criminal conviction,” Yatim’s father Bill Yatim said in a statement.
“From the beginning, we have said that it is our hope that this tragedy our family endured would force the police community to refocus their attention and efforts on revising their recruitment and training procedures, and to identify strategies to minimize the excessive use of force.”
In 2016, a jury acquitted Forcillo of the second-degree murder of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, who was holding a small knife, but convicted the officer of attempted murder. The conviction related to a second volley of bullets Forcillo fired after Yatim was down and dying.
Forcillo’s lawyers argued the first and second volleys the officer fired were artificially divided into discrete events. They also wanted to contest his initial six-year sentence, which was a year longer than the mandatory minimum.
Forcillo was one of the first officers to respond to a call about a teen exposing himself on the streetcar while brandishing a small knife. By the time police arrived, Yatim was the only person left on the streetcar in the early morning hours of July 2013.
Forcillo fired an initial three shots, which caused Yatim to fall to the floor of the streetcar, then fired a second volley of six more shots. He was the only officer to fire his weapon. The bursts lasted less than 10 seconds. Another officer then tasered the teen.
Bystander video of the shooting that surfaced sparked widespread public outrage.
Ontario’s top court dismissed Forcillo’s appeal in April, prompting him to apply to the Supreme Court.
In upholding the conviction and sentence, the Ontario Court of Appeal found the officer’s second volley to have been “clearly unnecessary and excessive.” In asking the Supreme Court to weigh in, Forcillo’s lawyers wanted to argue that the first and second rounds of shots were not two different “transactions.”
In their application to the high court, the lawyers also argued that mandatory minimum sentences are intended to deter people from committing crimes. However, they maintained deterrence did not apply because Forcillo legally used his gun in good faith.
Forcillo recently had six months added to his sentence after pleading guilty to perjury. He had also been charged with breaching the conditions of his bail while awaiting the Ontario Court of Appeal decision along with obstruction of justice, but those charges were dropped after his guilty plea.
Read the full statement from Bill Yatim below:
My family and I are beyond relieved by the decision of Canada’s highest Court to deny Mr. Forcillo’s latest effort to appeal his criminal conviction.
From the beginning, we have said that it is our hope that this tragedy our family endured would force the police community to refocus their attention and efforts on revising their recruitment and training procedures, and to identify strategies to minimize the excessive use of force
Sadly, I feel that more needs to be done to change the violent and aggressive nature of the police culture, and action needs to be taken now. The conduct of Officer Dusan Pravica, who was responsible for tasering my son, Sammy, after he had already been shot nine times, has yet to be addressed. The complaint into Mr. Pravica’s conduct was made over five years ago.
No family should ever have to experience the tragedy and turmoil that we have, and which we continue to endure, as a result of the heartless and irresponsible actions of Mr. Forcillo and Mr. Pravica. The recent incident involving a police shooting in Pelham, Ontario is yet another startling reminder of what can happen if appropriate steps are not taken to address the systemic cultural problems that exist in Ontario’s police departments.
Mr. Forcillo has exhausted all appeal routes now. We are grateful to the Supreme Court of Canada for this decision, and we hope that with this decision, Mr. Forcillo finally accepts his conviction and sentence, and responsibility for his actions.