Chief Bill Blair prepares to address the media at police headquarters, July 29, 2013.
Chief Bill Blair believes that Torontonians have "every right to be concerned" about an incident on board a streetcar Saturday morning that left an 18-year-old man dead after he was shot by the police.
At an unusual press conference Monday morning, Blair signalled that he understood the public reaction to the death of Sammy Yatim, who was killed after allegedly brandishing a knife and ordering passengers off the car on Dundas West near Bellwoods. Dozens of officers were called to the scene and at least one cop opened fire soon after arriving.
"I am very aware that the public is very concerned about this tragic event. They have every right to be concerned," Blair told reporters at police headquarters, reading from a prepared statement. "I recognize that there is a need for answers and that the public quite rightfully expects that the matter will be thoroughly investigated. I want to assure you all that this will be done."
Blair said that because the province's Special Investigations Unit is investigating Yatim's death, he couldn't discuss any details of the event. But he expressed his sympathy to the young man's loved ones, and said he had instructed Deputy Chief Mike Federico to reach out to the Yatim family to offer condolences and "whatever support that we are able to provide."
"As a father, I can only imagine their terrible grief and their need for answers. We will commit to doing our best to ensure that those answers are provided," Blair said.
Yatim's death, which was captured on amateur video, has drawn comparisons to several recent police shootings-among them the deaths of Michael Eligon and Sylvia Klibingaitis-and renewed criticism over police use of force when dealing with people in mental distress. Like Yatim, Eligon and Klibingaitis were both gunned down by cops as they held knives or scissors. Both had histories of mental illness. It is not known whether Yatim had a mental illness.
Disturbing amateur video footage of Saturday's incident shows nine shots being fired at Yatim, followed by what the SIU has said is a taser being deployed. Blair told reporters that he had watched the footage, but gave no further comment.
The chief pledged that the force would cooperate fully with the SIU, and said that, as required by law, he will submit his own report of the incident to the police services board 30 days after the unit has concluded its probe.
It is unusual for Blair to make such high-profile remarks about an incident that is still under investigation by the SIU, but his press conference comes as members of the public and media vent outrage about what some see as an excessive use of force.
Blair did not take any questions after reading his prepared remarks, which lasted just over three minutes.