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The Sammy Yatim Case And Restorative Justice

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The current criminal justice system often tends to focus on punishing the offender. However, this practice has proved to be destructive and a failure in many cases. The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr is a bestselling novel. Howard Zehr is known worldwide for his work he has done in terms of understanding justice. The Little Book of Restorative Justice examines how restorative justice is a process to involve offenders, victims, and the community in order for healing and to make things as right as possible (Zehr, 3). By bringing the offender and the victim together, restorative justice aims to get some sort of closure and acceptance in the aftermath of the offence. Above all, the primary goals of restorative justice are to put key decisions in the hands of those most impacted by the crimes, bringing the pursuit of justice in order for healing and transformation, and to reduce the likelihood of future offences (Zehr, 37). The Sammy Yatim case serves as a prime example, of how those who gain power are doomed to be corrupted by that same power and also how the current criminal justice system has failed to assist families in the aftermath of offences. Sammy Yatim was a youth who was shot a total of nine times by a police officer, he died from his injuries. Yatim also suffered from mental illnesses at the time of his death. Based on a thorough examination and analysis of the Sammy Yatim case, it is clear that restorative justice would be more well applied than the current criminal justice system to this case, by using the goals and three pillars of restorative justice which are focusing on harm, wrongs or harms results in obligations, and promoting engagement or participation.

Sammy Yatim was an 18-year-old male youth, who was murdered by Constable James Forcillo on July 27th, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario (“James Forcillo trial: timeline follows days after Sammy Yatim’s death”, 2016). On the day Yatim was murdered he threatened passengers on a streetcar, with a small switchblade knife that he was carrying and he exposed himself (Segal, 2018). However, Yatim did not harm anyone and all the passengers aboard the streetcar were able to exit safely without any struggle or conflict with Yatim. Constable Forcillo arrived to the scene and ordered Sammy to drop the small knife he was holding (Segal, 2018). Yatim refused and swore at constable Forcillo, and Forcillo then proceeded to shoot Yatim three times (Segal, 2018). As a result, Yatim fell to the ground and the small knife he was holding fell out of his hand. Constable Forcillo then continued to shoot Yatim six more times, after the youth was clearly powerless as the weapon was no longer in his possession (Segal, 2018). Two days after the death of Sammy Yatim, James Forcillo was suspended with pay from the Toronto police force (“James Forcillo trial: Timeline follows days after Sammy Yatim’s death”, 2016). The death of Sammy Yatim triggered public outrage all over Canada, with many people arguing that “mentally ill people need to be calmed down not shot at” (Picard, 2017). Yatim suffered from mental illness and was not in the right state of mind, as many witnesses stated that he appeared to be intoxicated either by alcohol or drugs. After his death, it was revealed that toxicological tests showed that Yatim had ecstasy and cocaine in his system when he was shot and killed (Pazzano, 2015). Therefore, the police force were criticized for the way the situation was handled as not only did Yatim appear to not be in the right state of mind, but he also did not pose a threat to anyone when he was shot because at that time all the passengers had safely existed the streetcar. In addition, Canadians were outraged at the number of times Sammy was shot at and also at the fact that Constable Forcillo continued to shoot at Sammy after the youth was clearly powerless, as the weapon was no longer in his possession and physically Yatim could no longer harm anyone because he had already been shot three times. James Forcillo was charged with second-degree murder on August 19th, 2013 for the death of Sammy Yatim. However in 2016, Forcillo was found not guilty for second degree murder, but guilty for attempted murder and was then sentenced to six years in prison (Segal, 2018). The mental illnesses that Yatim suffered from at the time of his death included anxiety and depression (Gillis, 2014).

The first pillar or key concept that restorative justice focuses on is harms and needs (Zehr, 22). Restorative justice acknowledges that the crime that has been committed as the harm that has been done to the victims and society as a whole. The current Canadian justice system puts their primary focus on punishing the offender, however in restorative justice the primary focus is on the victim’s needs and roles (Zehr, 22). Sammy Yatim’s mother, Sahar Bahadi acknowledged that “no amount of jail time will bring her son back” (“Sammy Yatim’s parents say son received justice after sentencing, but nothing will bring him back”, 2016). She went on to say that the Yatim family will continue to honour the life of Sammy Yatim in the aftermath of his death (“Sammy Yatim’s parents say son received justice after sentencing, but nothing will bring him back”, 2016). It is evident that in the Sammy Yatim case, his family believes and agrees that punishing the offender should not be the primary focus, but rather the primary focus should go to Sammy and the Yatim family. Sahar Bahadi also said “it is our hope that no other family will have to suffer this unbearable pain. Sammy was a good boy and his life was not only a few minutes on a streetcar” (“Sammy Yatim’s parents say son received justice after sentencing, but noting will bring him back”, 2016). Based off of this statement it is obvious that society should also be the prime focus. This is because if society is the prime focus, then it will reduce the chance of similar criminal offences of police abusing their power and crimes against people who have mental illnesses, from occurring in the future. Furthermore, Bahadi went on to say “even if it’s 100 years it can’t bring our son back”, further acknowledging how no matter how many years in prison Forcillo serves, it will not change the fact that Sammy Yatim is no longer alive (“Sammy Yatim’s parents say son received justice after sentencing, but nothing will bring him back”, 2016). Thus, rather than focusing on punishing Forcillo, the justice system should direct the focus to how to heal the Yatim family and what the needs of the Yatim family are. Overall, if restorative justice was applied to the Sammy Yatim case instead of the current Canadian criminal justice system, then it is clear that it would be more beneficial as an experience of healing is essential for all those involved in the offence, as evident by the goals of restorative justice. In this case it is unmistakeable that there was no healing as obvious by the Yatim family’s statements, this is because the focus did not go to the victim’s family but instead went to the offender.

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In addition to harms and needs, obligations is also one of the key concepts of restorative justice. Obligations is the second key concept and pillar (Zehr, 23). Restorative justice acknowledges the fact that the offender must take accountability and responsibility for the criminal offences they have committed (Zehr, 23). The current Canadian criminal justice system takes on the approach of accountability by making sure the offender is punished. However, restorative justice takes on the approach of accountability by encouraging the offender to understand the harm that they have caused (Zehr, 23). Offenders must be aware and comprehend the consequences that will come as a result of their criminal actions (Zehr, 24). Overall, restorative justice aims for the offender to take responsibility, accountability, and to put things right. This can be done by addressing harms, addressing causes, and involving all those involved and affected by the crime (Zehr, 34). In the Sammy Yatim case, is it Constable Forcillo’s responsibility to make things right, as he is the offender in this case. However Sammy Yatim’s father, Bill Yatim expressed disappointment and frustration at the fact that Forcillo failed to take responsibility and accountability for the murder of Sammy Yatim, as Forcillo did not express any remorse or guilt for his crime (“Sammy Yatim’s parents say son received justice after sentencing, but nothing will bring him back”, 2016). Moreover, Bill Yatim said “what he did was wrong and he should have admitted it” (“Sammy Yatim’s parents say son received justice after sentencing, but nothing will bring him back”, 2016). It is apparent that restorative justice would have been more beneficial for this case because the obligation of taking responsibility and accountability to make put things right, would have gone to Forcillo and based on the reactions and statements from the Yatim Family, it is clear that they need closure from Forcillo.

Harms or needs and obligations are both significant aspects that are part of the three pillars of restorative justice. However, equally important is the pillar of engagement or participation. Engagement or participation is the third pillar of restorative justice (Zehr, 24). Engagement encourages the victim, the offender, and society to come together in order to come to a consensus or mutual agreement, in terms of deciding what amount of justice should be required in the case (Zehr, 24). Therefore, it should be an inclusive and collaborative process for all those who are impacted by the crime (Zehr, 34). In the Sammy Yatim case, Forcillo failed to express any remorse or guilt for the crime he committed, which clearly had a negative impact on the Yatim Family and on the community. Sahar Bahadi was hopeful that Forcillo would express feelings of guilt and remorse, however when he failed to do so her response was “that hurt a lot. He destroyed our family, he destroyed our life” (“Sammy Yatim’s parents say son received justice after sentencing, but nothing will bring him back”, 2016). Though, had restorative justice been applied to this case instead of the current Canadian criminal justice system then the Yatim family, Forcillo, and the community would have had to come together to reach some sort of consensus. Additionally, it is important for the community to also have a say, as it was not just the Yatim family that was impacted by the murder of Sammy Yatim. The community was notably outraged at the crime that Constable Forcillo had committed, as Sammy Yatim was only a teenager (Gee, 2013). The public criticized the police force for the way that the situation was handled as there were multiple officers at the scene and only one of Yatim, therefore they could have easily apprehended him, instead of shooting him (Gee, 2013). Many members of the community also criticized Forcillo, as he was police officer and a person with authority who used his power in a destructive and negative manner, and was therefore corrupted by that same power. Many members of the community were also outraged at how Forcillo decided to shoot someone who was clearly not in the right state of times and the number of times that Forcillo shot Yatim, as he continued to shoot Yatim even after he was evidently powerless as the weapon was no longer in his possession and there was no passengers on the streetcar that he could harm as they had all safely existed before Forcillo arrived to the scene (Gee, 2013).

In a related police case that also occurred in Toronto, involved Constable Ken Lam and the Toronto van attack. The Toronto van attack occurred on April 23rd, 2018, in which a man named Alek Minassian drove a van that he rented into pedestrians. Minassian murdered a total of ten people and injured fourteen others (“Officer praised after taking down Toronto van attack suspect without gunfire”, 2018). Constable Lam was the first and only officer to respond to the van attack and was praised for the way that he handled the situation. Constable Lam refused to shoot Minassian and instead was able to calm him down and arrest him. Minassian shouted at Lam saying “kill me” (“Officer praised after taking down Toronto van attack suspect without gunfire”, 2018). To which Constable Lam responded by saying “no get down” (“Officer praised after taking down Toronto van attack suspect without gunfire”, 2018). Phil Gurski, a former Canadian Security Intelligence Services analyst said of Constable Lam, “he followed that training to the nth degree. And he was able to neutralize a guy who had just carried out a heinous attack” (“Officer praised after taking down Toronto van attack suspect without gunfire”, 2018). He went on to say “now the guy is alive, he’s not dead, which means you can question and you can hopefully find out what he did” (“Officer praised after taking down Toronto van attack suspect without gunfire”, 2018). This case can be compared to the Sammy Yatim case as they both occurred in Toronto and both involved police officers. However in the Sammy Yatim case, Yatim did not harm anyone yet was shot a total of nine times and murdered. Whereas in the Toronto van attack, Minassian actually killed numerous people but was not shot at. The actions of Constable Forcillo and Constable Lam can be compared, as Forcillo decided to abuse his power and use it in a destructive manner to murder a youth, which resulted in Forcillo being corrupted by that same power that he once had. Constable Lam on the other hand refused to shot and instead defused the situation by neutralizing Minassian. Furthermore, since Lam did not kill Minassian, that means Minassian is alive and can answer questions as to why he did what he did. Although, Yatim is dead and therefore will not be able to reveal his actions on the day he was murdered. This means that what was going through Sammy Yatim’s mind on the day he was murdered will never be known.

In conclusion, based on a thorough examination and analysis of the Sammy Yatim case, it is clear that restorative justice would be more well applied than the current criminal justice system to this case, by using the goals and three pillars of restorative justice which are focusing on harm, wrongs or harms results in obligations, and promoting engagement or participation. In the Sammy Yatim case it can be noted that those who gain power are doomed to be corrupted by that same power, as this is what occurred with Constable Forcillo. Constable Forcillo abused the power he had as a police officer of authority and as a result was corrupted by that power he once had and is currently serving time in prison for the attempted murder of Sammy Yatim. In the aftermath of the death of Sammy Yatim, had restorative justice been applied it would have proved to be more beneficial than the current Canadian criminal system. Restorative justice aims to bring the victim, offender, and society together in order to reach a consensus in the aftermath of a criminal offense (Zehr, 24). By doing so, it will give the victim and their family closure and healing, and it will also give the offender the responsibility to make things as right as possible (Zehr, 24). In order to reduce the chance of criminal offences being committed in the future, it is crucial that restorative justice be applied to future cases as opposed to the current criminal justice system.

Works cited

  1. Gillis, Wendy. ‘Family of Sammy Yatim Files Multimillion-dollar Lawsuit.’ Thestar.com. July 23, 2014. Accessed January 23, 2019. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/07/23/family_of_sammy_yatim_files_multimilliondollar_lawsuit.html.
  2. The article gives an insight of how the aftermath of the Sammy Yatim murder has impacted the Yatim Family. This article was useful because it gave an insight of how the Yatim family filed a lawsuit against Forcillo and the Toronto police. It also talked about how the family is struggling with physical and psychological conditions in the aftermath of the offence.
  3. ‘How This Toronto Officer ‘courageously’ Got the Van Attack Suspect in Custody without Firing a Shot | CBC News.’ CBCnews. April 24, 2018. Accessed January 22, 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/officer-praised-taking-van- attack-suspect-custody-peaceful-1.4632661.
  4. This article was about the Toronto van attack and the courageous actions of Officer Lam. It was useful because it gave an insight of what happened on that day and how police should respond to issues such as that.
  5. ”I Want Him Back.’ Yatim Family Says Sentence Won’t Bring Back Their Son | CBC News.’ CBCnews. July 28, 2016. Accessed January 22, 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/sammy-yatim-family-sentencing-reaction-1.3699730.
  6. This article was about how the Yatim family continue to struggle with the fact that they lost their son. This was a valuable source because it gave an insight as to how no amount of justice will bring closure to the Yatim family due to the fact that Forcillo has not expressed any guilt or remorse for his actions.
  7. Pazzano, Sam. ‘Yatim Had Illicit Drugs in System When Shot, Court Told.’ Toronto Sun. October 23, 2015. Accessed January 23, 2019. https://torontosun.com/2015/10/22/yatim-shooting-audio-to-be-played-in-court/wcm/34ffaf90-f115-4573-8ab9-100a134da35c.
  8. This article is about how toxicological tests have revealed that Yatim had drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine in his system on the day of his death. This source was valuable because it gave an insight as to how Forcillo shot and killed a youth who was not in the right state of mind, as Yatim was under the influence of drugs and also had mental illnesses.
  9. ‘The Lasting Impact of the Forcillo Conviction.’ Law Times. July 10, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2019. https://www.lawtimesnews.com/article/the-lasting-impact-of-the-forcillo-conviction-15963/
  10. This article is about the impact of the conviction of James Forcillo. This was useful because it gave an insight of how this case has impacted many people and the community as a whole.
  11. ‘Timeline Follows Sammy Yatim’s Death to James Forcillo’s Trial | CBC News.’ CBCnews. January 20, 2016. Accessed January 22, 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/forcillo-timeline-1.3411879.
  12. This source was about the timeline of the Sammy Yatim case and the James Forcillo trial. This was a valuable source because it gave an insight of all the events that led up the conviction of Forcillo and it had all the dates on it.
  13. Zehr, Howard. The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Vancouver, B.C.: Langara College, 2016.
  14. This source is about restorative justice and how it is more beneficial than the current Canadian criminal justice system. This was a valuable source because it gave an in depth and detailed look at how restorative justice is a more beneficial approach as it brings the victim, offender, and society together. Overall, it examines how society should respond to a wrongdoing.

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