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Editorial: Conviction confounds

When you are in the politics or news game for a while, there will be ongoing stories or issues that lie dormant for years, roiling in the background.  

One day — usually when no one anticipates it — there is one particular case that lights up like a piece of kindling and sets the town ablaze.

The shooting death of Sammy Yatim was that story.

The jury verdict against Toronto police officer James Forcillo is believed to be the first time ever that an officer in Ontario has been convicted in the death of a civilian in the line of duty.  

The death of Yatim raises important questions about use of force, about community distrust of police, and about Ontarians’ perceptions of how fair the justice system is when it comes to dealing with one of their own. When the verdict came down this week, some voiced relief that an officer had been convicted.

The case also raised important questions about how social media influences public perception of an accused — and how it makes inconvenient questions about public policing and the justice system harder to ignore. After the verdict, Forcillo’s lawyer Peter Brauti stated that public opinion had been tainted by “trial-by-YouTube,” and that prodigious social media on the case created public pressure.

It is important to remember that no one is free from the barrage of information available online — whether they are a prospective juror, an officer of the court, or otherwise.

What Forcillo was convicted for was harder to understand and clarify, especially because the officer was found not guilty of second-degree murder for the first three shots he fired, which killed Yatim, but guilty of attempted murder for a second round of six shots Forcillo fired.  

For lawyers, the distinction between charges may be abundantly clear — but for many Canadians, the word “guilty” was the pivotal phrase.

The lawyers among us with familiarity on nuances of criminal law are charged to go forth and share insights on how it manifests in complicated cases.


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