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Family of Sammy Yatim tells inquest they still struggle to cope with teen’s death [Video]

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First Nations News

Family of Sammy Yatim tells inquest they still struggle to cope with teen’s death

The family of a teen who was shot by a Toronto police officer more than a decade ago told a coroner’s inquest there should be support to help people like them cope with their loss, noting they are still struggling to come to terms with his death.

Sammy Yatim’s mother, father and sister addressed jurors separately as a coroner’s inquest into his death began Friday. Each described the pain and sense of emptiness left after Yatim, who was 18 at the time, died on July 27, 2013, and urged jurors to make a recommendation regarding support for grieving families.

Sammy Yatim’s sister, Sara Yatim, said she used to dream of babysitting her brother’s kids once he was grown and had a family of his own. That dream was shattered abruptly, as was her hope, she said in a statement read aloud by her lawyer.

“For the past 10 years, I have not been well, I still am not well. I fight every single day just to get out of bed,” she wrote. “All that for something that happened in less than a minute, for something that could have and should have been avoided.”

Officers should take several minutes to assess and de-escalate a situation because it takes so little time to take a life, she said. As well, those who “have been through the same or a similar situation” as her family should receive fully funded mental health support, she said.

Nabil Yatim, Sammy Yatim’s father, said families need resources to help them in the aftermath of a “tragic loss.”

“We have tragically lost a son and a brother in horrific circumstances. There are no words for a parent that loses a child. There are no words that can properly express the depth of our loss,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer.

Sammy Yatim’s mother, Sahar Bahadi, described her son as the family’s “sunshine,” a miraculous first child who was a talented artist and athlete. He made an effort to adapt to his new life in Canada after coming here from his native Syria, and had made friends at his school, she said.

His death paralyzed her, she said. “We were alone, me and Sara, in Canada with a new life, with no support. So it was really very difficult for us, and even until now we needed somebody to help us,” she said.

Sammy Yatim was alone on a streetcar holding a small knife when he was shot by then-Const. James Forcillo in two separate volleys of bullets.

Jurors acquitted Forcillo of second-degree murder related to the first round of shots, which court heard had killed the teen. The officer was convicted of attempted murder related to the second volley, fired while Yatim was lying on his back.

Forcillo was sentenced to six and a half years behind bars and was granted full parole in 2020.

In his opening statement, coroner’s counsel Peter Napier said the inquest will explore the mechanisms in place to promote good decision-making skills for police, and best practices in responding to people in crisis.

He said that may include factors such as police recruiting, monitoring of officers, the role of bystander officers during confrontations, the role of supervisors in monitoring officers, and the availability of mental health supports.

However, Napier said the inquest is not meant to re-examine the events of that day, which have been extensively reviewed during trial, or issues such as Forcillo’s potential culpability, the investigation by a police oversight body, or the details of the use-of-force model used by police.

Jurors also heard testimony Friday afternoon from the driver of the streetcar, and viewed video footage from inside the streetcar.

The inquest is not sitting Monday and will resume Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2024.

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