Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Let the system work

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The protests against the return to work of a Toronto police officer charged with second-degree murder in last summer's streetcar shooting of a knife-wielding teenager amount to disdain for a cornerstone of our justice system -- the presumption of innocence.

In July 2013, Const. James Forcillo shot 18-year-old Sammy Yatim following the officer's ignored shouts to drop a knife. After the shooting, Forcillo was suspended with pay. In February, he returned to work in an administrative role with Toronto Crimestoppers, pending disposition of the charge.

Last week, on learning of Forcillo being given a desk job, Yatim's family and friends announced plans for a protest rally, and issued a statement. "We are extremely disappointed that a police officer charged with second-degree murder -- of which there is ample video evidence -- is being allowed to return to duty," it said.

That now much-repeated statement by the slain boy's family goes beyond any understandable venting of their anger and grief. It amounts to a public presumption, and conclusion, of the officer's guilt.

The statement is unfair, and grievously wrong in law: Const. Forcillo is entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty has deep roots in Canada. It's part of our historical inheritance of English criminal law. And once the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was proclaimed into law in 1982, its primacy was codified in Sec. 11 of the Charter.

The officer's case has just begun to wend its way through the criminal justice system. A preliminary inquiry to determine whether there's even enough evidence to commit him for trial has just started. The police officer may well be found guilty, after a trial.

But in the meantime, attacking him for returning to work while asserting his constitutional right to plead not guilty is, itself, unjust.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 29, 2014 A8

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