Jun 29, 2016
TORONTO _ Families of people killed by police say they are ``hopeful'' the Ontario government will act on an ombudsman's report calling for improved training in de-escalation techniques for officers who encounter people in crisis.
The report, issued on Wednesday, calls on the government to mandate better police training in how to interact with people who are dealing with mental health or addiction issues, without drawing their guns as the first option.
``Ontario officers have plenty of training on how to use their guns, but not enough on how to use their mouths,'' ombudsman Paul Dube said.
Nineteen people have been killed in police shootings in Ontario since the ombudsman's office opened a special investigation following the shooting death of teenager Sammy Yatim, 18, on a Toronto streetcar in July 2013.
Various coroner's inquests have shown police respond with their guns in such situations because they are following their training, which focuses on ``drawing their weapons and yelling commands,'' said Dube.
There have been hundreds of recommendations from coroner's juries for better police training so they have more options to deal with dangerous interactions than just their weapons, so it's time for the government to make it a priority, he added.
``It is time for the ministry to direct police services on how to de-escalate situations of conflict before they result in the use of lethal force against people in crisis,'' said Dube.
``It is not just a mater of long-overdue leadership, but of saving lives.''
Nabil Yatim, Sammy's father, said he believes his son would still be alive if the officer who shot him would have had better de-escalation training.
``I'm almost positive he would be,'' he said.
The ombudsman's recommendations are ``a start,'' but more must be done, added Yatim.
``It's the culture that has to be changed,'' he said.
The government is ``committed to implementing these recommendations'' and things need to change, said Community Safety Minister David Orazietti.
``The use of force model certainly needs to be redefined,'' he said.
``We know that there is ample research and evidence from other jurisdictions that have different models, and I think we can learn from them.''
Joanne MacIsaac, whose brother Michael was killed in the street by Toronto police in 2013 after he ran out of the house naked and brandishing a table leg, said she was ``cautiously optimistic'' the government would finally act to improve police training.
Michael was shot dead within eight seconds of the police opening their car doors, and ``they didn't ask him a thing,'' added MacIsaac.
``I think also the attitude and the culture has to change, and the recruitment,'' she said.
However, MacIsaac wasn't impressed with the way Orazietti ducked questions about taking responsibility for the deaths that followed years of government inaction on the calls for better police training to deal with disturbed and potentially dangerous people.
They didn't want to look back. Well I want to look back and I think they should address that,'' she said.By admitting there's problems that need changes, then perhaps they're responsible for what's happened in the past.
Dube says there is ``ample evidence'' the government needs to make the issue a priority and mandate more instruction time in de-escalation techniques, including well over 100 coroner's jury recommendations calling for improved police training.
The government watchdog says Ontario's basic police training course is among the shortest in Canada, and is more focused on how to use weapons than on finding alternatives.
Dube stressed he was not being critical of police, but of their ``inadequate training'' for when they face difficult and potentially dangerous situations, and said the shootings are traumatic for everyone, including the officers.
``We don't need another study or consultation to determine that police training on de-escalation is inadequate,'' he said.