Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lest we forget: A tally of police shootings and taser deaths of Canadians with severe mental illness

     I am haunted by the 2013 police shooting death of Sammy Yatim, and the words of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair this month that the recommendations that came out of the investigation of the 18-year-old's death won't be "left to gather dust." If only we could believe that.
     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:
2014 – Alain Magloire, Montreal
2013 – Michael McIsaac, Durham
2013 – Sammy Yatim, Toronto
2013 – Steve Mesic, Hamilton
2012 - Farshad Mohammadi, Montreal
2012 - Michael Eligon, Toronto
2011- Mario Hamel, Toronto
2010 – Reyal Jardine, Toronto
2010 - Sylvia Klbingaitis, Toronto (sole woman)
2007 – Paul Boyd, Vancouver
2009 – Jeff Hughes, Vancouver
2008  - Byron Debassige, Toronto
2007 – Unnamed man, Vancouver
2004 – Martin Ostopovich, Spruce Grove 
2004 – Joe Pagnotta, Langford
2004 – O’Brien Christopher-Reid, Toronto
2004  - Magencia Camaso, Saanich
2004 – Antonio Bellon, Toronto
2003 – Unnamed man, Vancouver
2000 = Darryl Power, Newfoundland
2000 – Norman Reid, Newfoundland
1997 – Edmund Yu, Toronto
2000 - Frank Hutterer, Ottawa 
2000 - Otto Vass, Vancouver
1999 – Unnamed man, Langley
1999 - Unnamed man, Vancouver
1997 – Thomas Alcorn, Vancouver
1997 – Unnamed man, Vancouver
1996 – Charles Albert Wilson, Vancouver
1996 – Wayne Williams, Toronto
1996 – Tommy Barnett, Toronto
1994 – Albert Moses, Toronto
1992 – Dominic Sabatino, Toronto
1988 – Lester Donaldson, Toronto

Fatally tasered and confirmed to have a mental illness:
2013 – Donald Menard, Montreal
2010 – Aron Firman, Collingwood, Ont
2007 – Howard Hyde, Nova Scotia
2007 – Claudio Castagnetta, Quebec City
2006 – Jason Doan, Red Deer
2005 – Kevin Geldart, Moncton
2005 – Alesandro Fiacco, Edmonton
2004 – Samuel Truscott, Kingston
2004 – Ronald Perry, Edmonton
2004 – Roman Andreichikov, Vancouver
2004 – Robert Bagnell, Vancouver (opinions divided as to whether he had mental health issues)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny- all we hear about is this american black kid who did an armed robbery, beat an officer, stoled his gun then was shot. Hes not even in canada hes in america! How can people say its race based when it has happened to many people all over canada of all races????????