The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear the case of the former Toronto police officer James Forcillo who fatally shot Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013.
The decision marks the conclusion of a legal saga that prompted public outrage, spawned a review of Toronto police use of force and saw the unprecedented attempted murder conviction — by a jury — of a Canadian police officer in an on-duty death.
“It’s done,” Yatim’s mother, Sahar Bahadi, said when reached by phone Thursday moments after the decision was released, saying it was a decision she expected but was nonetheless relieved to hear.
“Still, nothing will compensate me. I lost my son, and nothing will bring him back to me.”
Michael Lacy, one of Forcillo’s lawyers, tweeted Thursday that he respected the decision from Canada’s highest court.
“This ends the legal proceedings and Mr. Forcillo will now continue to serve out his sentence,” Lacy wrote.
The bar to have an appeal heard at the Supreme Court of Canada is high, and the majority of cases don’t meet it. In recent years, the court has accepted only about 11 per cent of the applications it received. Among the requirements is that the case presents an issue of national importance.
The conviction of a Canadian police officer by a jury will be held in the public memory for years, said Patrick Watson, a criminologist who teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University and researches police-involved shootings and the use of video evidence. That’s in no small part because “it showed that, yes, there is police accountability in some circumstances.”
“The public significance can’t be overlooked,” Watson said.
Forcillo has been behind bars since November 2017, after he was arrested for violating bail conditions by moving in with his fiancée when he was supposed to be under house arrest in another location. He later pleaded guilty to perjury for lying in a court affidavit he’d filed to change his address. He was sentenced to six months in jail in addition to his six-year sentence in the Yatim case.
Toronto police confirmed to the Star this week that Forcillo submitted his resignation to the force in September. The outstanding professional misconduct charges against him in connection to the Yatim case have now been dropped.
Yatim, 18, died on July 27, 2013, after he was shot eight times by Forcillo as he stood alone on a Dundas streetcar. Immediately before the shooting, Yatim had exposed himself and wielded a small knife, sending passengers and the streetcar driver fleeing.
Within a minute of arriving on the scene, Forcillo began firing at Yatim, shooting in two discrete volleys separated by five and a half seconds. The officer initially shot three bullets, including the fatal shot to Yatim’s heart, then fired six more as Yatim lay on the floor of the streetcar.
In 2016, a jury found Forcillo not guilty of second-degree murder in connection to the first volley of shots, but convicted him of attempted murder for the second volley, which a judge later called “unnecessary and unreasonable and excessive from the outset.”
Forcillo’s lawyers appealed the conviction to Ontario’s highest court, arguing in part that the shooting should not have been divided into two separate charges because it was one continuous event.
They also argued before the Court of Appeal that Forcillo’s six-year sentence — one year higher than the mandatory minimum sentence for attempted murder with a firearm — was unconstitutional. The minimum sentence was never intended to be applied to a police officer or anyone armed by virtue of their work, his lawyers argued.
The Court of Appeal disagreed on both counts, calling the sentencing argument “faulty” because a police officer’s obligation to carry a gun “does not preclude their criminal misuse in excessive force scenarios.”
On the issue of the separation of the charges, the Court of Appeal found there were “obvious differences” between the circumstances when Forcillo fired the first volley of shots and when he unleashed the second, including that Yatim was hit and laying on his back when Forcillo fired the second round of shots.
In their July application to the Supreme Court, Forcillo’s lawyers argued that his case presents an opportunity to revisit the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum sentence for attempted murder involving a firearm.
Lawyers Michael Lacy, Joseph Wilkinson and Bryan Badali also argued that the Crown prosecutors did not establish beyond reasonable doubt that Forcillo’s volleys of bullets were not just one continuous event.
“While the circumstances may be unique, Forcillo’s conviction raises fundamental questions about the necessary elements the Crown must prove in order to convict an accused of an attempt to commit an offence where there is no issue that the offence has been completed,” the lawyers argued.
“The case at bar raises an interesting and important point of law.”
With files from Star staff
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis