Blair has said versions of that before, in past years when Toronto police killed some other person with mental illness. The case of Sammy Yatim was particularly tragic, what with him being a young man alone on an empty streetcar when he was first shot nine times by the police and then tasered as he lay dying on the floor. (See the enhanced YouTube video of his death taken by a passerby here.)
But he's hardly the only sad story.
One night last week I went looking for every archived news story I could find on fatal police shootings of people with mental illness, and found at least 36 such shootings in Canada since 1988.
And at least half of the 21 known deaths of Canadians after being tasered by police have also involved people with mental illness. (Must be careful with the wording here, as Taser International continues to assert that tasers don't kill people, just tasers when combined with cocaine use or that new-fangled thing we call "excited delirium," which I imagine we would all experience when about to be shot or tasered by police).
There's nothing wrong with the recommendations issued in the wake of Yatim's death. But when you go back through most of the news coverage of those other 36 shootings, you will note a striking similarity. And yet, ill people who desperately need help continue to be killed instead.
While the Yatim case is a clear exception, I don't mean to lay all the blame at the door of police officers. They've got tough jobs at the best of times, and our country's decision in the 1980s to cut loose people with serious mental illness is clearly the root of much of the problem. We have left police to manage those with severe and chronic illnesses, which has to be just about as nutty of a societal approach as any you'd see.
But here we are, with no sign that we're serious as a society about doing anything to correct that terrible decision. And people - well, men, more specifically, as only one death has involved a woman - continue to die at the hands of police instead of receiving the medical and community help they so urgently need. A man gets shot, an angst-ridden community who briefly cares wrings its hands, a report is issued recommending this, that and the other, and soon enough it's all forgotten until the next shooting. In fact, another man with mental illness has already been killed by Montreal police in the year since Sammy Yatim died.
There is power in speaking a name. So here they are, by name, to be remembered as those whose deaths once led to similar recommendations as those for teenager Sammy Yatim. Some were implemented, others weren't. And the country rolled on, each shooting treated like a surprising one-off instead of the latest indicator of a disastrously failed mental-health system.
Lest we forget.
Fatally shot by police: