Supreme Court Declines Bid for Appeal by Toronto Cop

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The highest court in Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada, has denied the request for leave to appeal made by Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo (“Forcillo”) of his 2016 conviction of attempted murder and six-year jail sentence.

We have previously blogged about both the trial court decision, in which the jury found Forcillo guilty of attempted murder in the death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim (“Yatim”), and the Ontario appeal court decision, which upheld the trial court decision.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The shooting death of Yatim on July 27, 2013 was recorded on video by a bystander showing Forcillo shooting Yatim in two separate intervals. Forcillo shot Yatim as he stood on the steps of an empty Dundas streetcar, and then resumed firing 5.5 seconds later as Yatim lay on the ground, apparently dying.

The police were called upon after Yatim exposed himself and handled a small knife on a streetcar, prompting both passengers and the driver to flee the streetcar.

Although a jury acquitted Forcillo of second-degree murder for firing the initial fatal shots, he was held guilty of attempted murder for pausing for 5.5 seconds and deciding to fire at Yatim six more times.

Forcillo was sentenced to six years in jail for firing the second set of shots which were found to be “unreasonable, unnecessary and excessive” and an “egregious breach of trust”. Forcillo proceeded to appeal his conviction and sentence, and was granted bail while awaiting his appeal.

In November, 2017, while Forcillo awaited the appeal of his conviction he was placed on house arrest bail and was living with his estranged wife, who was also his surety. During this time, SIU investigators went to his fiancee’s home to assess the apartment’s suitability. Forcillo answered the door and tried to explain that his presence at the home was only temporary. However, a lease agreement of the rental unit was found to be signed by Forcillo and his fiancée, and his name was found on the intercom directory in the apartment lobby. Forcillo was charged with failing to comply with his recognizance.

Forcillo’s bail was revoked and he was sent to prison to await the appeal of his conviction and sentence. During this time, new charges were laid against him alleging that he committed perjury by making a “false statement under oath in an affidavit” and obstructing justice by attempting to cause a judge of the Court of Appeal to act on an affidavit made under oath that contained omissions, misleading, and or false statement.

The charges for obstruction and breach of bail conditions were withdrawn after Forcillo pleaded guilty to perjury. Forcillo was sentenced by Justice Sandra Bacchus to six months in prison, on top of his existing 6 year jail term.

In April, 2018, Forcillo’s case was heard before the highest court in Ontario where his lawyers argued, in part, that the shooting should not have been divided into two separate charges as it was one continuous event. The Ontario Court of Appeal found that there were differences between the two volleys of shots by Forcillo, and therefore upheld Forcillo’s conviction and sentence.

Forcillo applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. This was Forcillo’s last available remedy to overturn his conviction and jail sentence. The Supreme Court of Canada only hears approximately 11% of all cases that submit applications to be heard by the highest level of court in Canada. The court does not provide any reasons as to why cases are rejected at this level.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Forcillo officially resigned from Toronto Police Service on September 4, 2018.  He becomes eligible for day parole in July 2019 and eligible for full parole as of January 2020.

Forcillo’s criminal case has now ended with the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear his appeal, however, his legal battles are not yet over. There is still a coroner’s inquest to be held, a date for which has not yet been set. Also, Yatim’s parents have filed separate civil lawsuits against Forcillo.

Sergeant Dusan Pravica (“Pravica”), who arrived on the scene seconds after Yatim was shot, is also facing one count of misconduct under Ontario’s Police Services Act and awaits a hearing before the Toronto Police Disciplinary Tribunal. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director completed an investigation following Yatim’s death (and a complaint filed by Yatim’s father) and concluded that Pravica used unnecessary force, failed to assess the totality of the circumstances, and acted in haste when he Tasered Yatim as he lay on the ground. Pravica gave evidence at Forcillo’s trial that Yatim was still clutching a knife as he approached him and he felt that Yatim still posed a threat.

We will continue to follow Pravica’s case and await the results of the hearing before the Toronto Police Disciplinary Tribunal, and will report any developments in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.