Aug 14 2013
TORONTO - Toronto's police chief is defending his choice of a retired judge to assist in an internal review of the force following the death of an 18-year-old.
Bill Blair announced on Monday that Dennis O'Connor would help him in a review of police use of force in dealing with emotionally disturbed people.
Blair revealed Wednesday that the law firm O'Connor is with - Borden Ladner Gervais - has acted for the insurers of the Toronto Police Service in civil suits.
Blair said he and O'Connor are satisfied that his association with BLG will not impair his ability to give sound advice on the matters under review.
The chief also stressed that he hasn't asked O'Connor to investigate or make factual findings about past incidents, but to review Toronto police policies, procedures, and training.
Blair called for the review following the death last month of Sammy Yatim, who was shot and Tasered by police on an empty streetcar.
A review by the chief of police is mandated under the Police Services Act in Yatim's death because the Special Investigations Unit is involved.
Const. James Forcillo has been suspended and the Toronto Police Association president has urged the public not to jump to conclusions.
Following Yatim's death, Blair said he understood the public had many questions about police conduct.
"I recognize that there is a need for answers and that the public quite rightfully expects that the matter will be thoroughly investigated. I want to assure you all that this will be done,'' he said at the time.
"The public also has a right to demand that the Toronto Police Service examine the conduct of its officers to ensure that its training and procedures are both appropriate and followed. This will be done.''
Blair said Monday that O'Connor's review will look beyond his case, and will include an international review of established best practices.
O'Connor presided over the inquiries into Ontario's Walkerton water tragedy and the rendition and torture of Maher Arar.
He also sat on the Ontario Court of Appeal from 1998 until last year and served as the province's associate chief justice for more than a decade.
Ontario's ombudsman has also launched an investigation, probing what kind of direction the provincial government provides to police for defusing conflict situations.
Andre Marin has said Yatim's shooting raises the question of whether it's time for Ontario to have consistent and uniform guidelines on how police should de-escalate situations before they lead to the use of force.
Many coroner's inquests into similar deaths over the past 20 years have made recommendations that are almost "carbon copied from each other,'' he said, such as increasing police training.
A coroner's inquest into similar police-related deaths will also get underway this fall.