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Toronto police officer to stand trial on murder charge in death of Sammy Yatim

Constable James Forcillo, centre, flanked by his wife Irina Forcillo and lawyer Lawrence Gridin, leave court Tuesday.

Nathan Denette/CP

A Toronto Police officer has been committed to stand trial on a charge of second-degree murder in the shooting death of teenager Sammy Yatim on a streetcar last summer.

Constable James Forcillo is expected to go to trial next year in the death of the 18-year-old Mr. Yatim, who was shot nine times and tasered while standing in a streetcar surrounded by officers. He was holding a knife.

The incident sparked national outrage against police use of force after a bystander posted a cellphone video of the shooting to YouTube the same night in July. Police Chief Bill Blair also viewed the footage.

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Constable Forcillo's preliminary inquiry, held to determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial, concluded on Tuesday. The evidence heard by Judge Richard LeDressay is under publication ban.

Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, said Constable Forcillo and his lawyer, Peter Brauti, consented to the case moving to trial.

"He's looking forward to the trial, where evidence can be called on both sides … and that a full and proper account of what happened that night can be heard in a court of law," Mr. McCormack said of Constable Forcillo. "The evidence, once it becomes public, will possibly present a different landscape of what happened that evening."

Joseph Nazar, a friend of the Yatim family, said he will leave it to the courts to decide what happens to Constable Forcillo.

"We hope justice will prevail," he said. "Somebody was shot, and we hope justice will find its way there."

Mr. Yatim's death led to a review of Toronto Police's policies on use of lethal force headed by retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci and expected to cost up to $985,000.

Constable Forcillo is the second Toronto Police officer to be charged with murder by the Special Investigations Unit, Ontario's police watchdog, in its 24-year history.

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Constable David Cavanagh was charged with second-degree murder in the 2010 shooting death of Eric Osawe, a Nigerian-born father of two, during a struggle. A judge dismissed the charges in March last year, and the Crown's appeal to prosecute him for manslaughter was unsuccessful.

Mr. McCormack said the rest of the force will watch Constable Forcillo's trial closely.

"The whole incident has had an impact on our police officers," he said. "It's a difficult job where you have to make split-second decisions, but it's just part of being a police officer."

The standard for committing someone to trial after a preliminary inquiry is whether there is evidence by which a reasonable, properly instructed jury could convict them – different than the standard of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt needed at trial.

Constable Forcillo, who is free on $510,000 bail, was suspended with pay, but returned to active duty at Toronto Crimestoppers in an administrative role in February.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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