Const. James Forcillo, convicted in streetcar shooting, granted bail

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Toronto police Const. James Forcillo will be released on bail as he appeals his conviction for the attempted murder of Sammy Yatim, the 18-year-old shot dead aboard a streetcar in July 2013.

Forcillo received a six-year sentence Thursday and spent the night in custody.

Yatim was shot on July 27, 2013, after police responded to reports of a passenger carrying a weapon on a streetcar on Dundas Street West in downtown Toronto.

Forcillo fired two separate volleys — three shots and then six shots — at Yatim. Medical evidence showed Yatim was critically injured by the first round of shots and would have died whether or not Forcillo had continued shooting.

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Sammy Yatim, 18, was shot by Forcillo after police were called to a streetcar on Dundas Street West, responding to reports of a passenger carrying a weapon.

Forcillo’s trial began in Toronto at the Superior Court of Justice on Oct. 20. He faced two charges: one count of second-degree murder for the first round of shots, and one count of attempted murder for the second round.

On Jan. 25, the jury reached its verdict, finding Forcillo was justified in firing the first three shots at Yatim and thus not guilty of second-degree murder. However, they also determined Forcillo was not justified in firing the second round of shots, once Yatim was on the streetcar floor, and convicted him of attempted murder.

On Thursday morning, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Then issued Forcillo’s sentence: six years.

The sentence

The judge rejected Forcillo’s constitutional challenge of the mandatory minimum five-year sentence for attempted murder. His lawyers had argued the minimum should not apply to a police officer on duty.

The judge said all the shots in the second volley were “unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive,” and contrary to Forcillo’s police training.

Sammy Yatim's family

Sammy Yatim’s mother, Sahar Bahadi, embraces her daughter Sarah after Forcillo’s sentencing. (Michelle Siu/Canadian Press)

Then said the sentence must match the crime and that attempted murder is “one of the most serious offences known to law.”

He also said police officers must be held to a higher standard than members of the public and that Forcillo should have used de-escalation or communication techniques to get Yatim to surrender his weapon.

Forcillo “failed in his duty to Mr. Yatim” when he fired the second volley of shots, Then added.

The appeal

On Thursday afternoon, Forcillo and his lawyers were back in court, this time to launch an appeal of the conviction and to ask that Forcillo be let out on bail pending that appeal. (They say they have also started the process to appeal the sentencing decision, a separate legal procedure.)

Lawyer Michael Lacy had described Forcillo as an ideal candidate for bail who poses no risk to the community, and argued this was not a case of “gratuitous” murder.

Lacy laid out nine grounds for the appeal of the conviction itself, including that the trial judge erred in not introducing circumstantial evidence pertaining to Yatim’s state of mind at the time of the shooting, and in prohibiting expert evidence on the phenomenon of “suicide by cop.”

He also said the court needs to consider the “proverbial elephant in the room” — namely that the proceedings are taking place in a “fishbowl” because of the high level of public interest in the outcome. But this should not in any way affect the proceedings themselves, Lacy said.

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Const. James Forcillo, convicted in streetcar shooting, granted bail

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