The van massacre that traumatized Toronto today was amplified by the spread of smartphone videos that showed police arresting the driver, repeatedly screaming at him to lie on the ground as he dares them to shoot him in the head.
The videos quickly trended on Twitter and other social media.
“C’mon, get down!” an officer pointing a weapon yells at the driver, standing outside the damaged white van in the middle of the afternoon. “Get down or you’ll be shot!”
The driver responds: “I have a gun in my pocket!” and “Shoot me in the head!”
The Toronto Star created a montage of videos that showed the confrontation from different vantage points on the street and from a high-rise window, ending with the driver being subdued and arrested.
Police appeared to show extraordinary restraint about shooting the driver — a caution that may have reflected a new sensitivity about lethal use of force.
In Canada there have been many videos of police officers killing or fatally wounding people in states of clear mental distress.
The most famous, perhaps, is the use of a Taser stun gun in 2007 on Robert Dziekański, a Polish immigrant to Canada who was agitated after waiting more than nine hours in the Vancouver airport and began to throw furniture. Although he was unarmed, police struck him with Taser guns multiple times soon after arriving at the scene. He died shortly after.
In 2013, amateur video surfaced, capturing the sounds of a Toronto police officer, James Forcillo, shooting an 18-year-old man who was wielding a knife on a streetcar late at night. Forcillo shot the man, Sammy Yatim, nine times — a first volley of three, which felled him, followed by six, when he was on the ground.
The highly circulated video raised the question of police training and implementation of de-escalation techniques when confronting people in mental distress.
In 2016, Forcillo was found guilty of attempted murder for the second round of shots and sentenced to six years in prison. He has appealed the verdict.
In the aftermath of Yatim’s death and other similar cases, a mental health expert was appointed to the Toronto force’s governing board.