Rare Canada police conviction puts spotlight on race relations

Thu Jul 28, 2016 10:31pm EDT
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By Alastair Sharp and Allison Lampert

TORONTO/MONTREAL (Reuters) - A six-year prison sentence given to a Toronto policeman in the shooting death of a teenager three years ago was a rare occurrence in Canada, where activists say officers too often get off easy in brutality cases.

The case, along with this week's death of a black man who witnesses say was beaten by police officers, has brought race relations in Canada to the forefront.

The 2013 fatal shooting of Sammy Yatim, 18, which occurred after an altercation on a streetcar with the teen, who was brandishing a knife, was caught on video and led to widespread protests in Toronto.

The sentencing of the officer, James Forcillo, who was convicted in January, came days after a mentally ill black man, Abdirahman Abdi, died following his arrest by police in Ottawa.

The deaths have shone an unflattering light on race relations in Canada, which prides itself on its multiculturalism and tolerance, especially in contrast to the United States.

In Montreal, about 50 protesters demonstrated over Abdi's death, chanting: "Black lives matter." Marlihan Lopez said that as the mother of a 6-year-old black boy with autism, the case hit close to home.

"In terms of the police, we live in a world where my son's skin color is deemed as being threatening and his mental state is not understood," she said.

The deaths echoed events in the United States, where a string of police killings of black men and allegations of police brutality and racial bias have sparked protests. Some confrontations in the United States were also caught on video.   Continued...

Toronto police officer Constable James Forcillo (L) leaves the court after being let out on bail in Toronto, August 20, 2013.   REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo