The family of a teen who died after being shot by a former Toronto police officer is shocked that the man has been granted day parole after serving less than a third of his sentence, their lawyer said.
Edwin Upenieks, who represents the relatives of Sammy Yatim, said the teen's parents were not aware that James Forcillo was due for a hearing before the Parole Board of Canada this week. Had they known, Upenieks said the family would have been there to speak out against the partial release granted on Thursday.
A written decision from the board shows Forcillo was given day parole after expressing remorse and contrition for Yatim's death, which occurred in 2013 after the officer fired two rounds of shots at the 18-year-old who stood on an empty streetcar.
Forcillo was acquitted of second-degree murder but convicted of attempted murder. The parole board decision came 21 months into his six-year prison sentence.
"The reaction is one of shock," Upenieks said of the family's response to the decision. "Shock that there was a hearing and shock at the fact that parole was granted."
The parole board said Forcillo is permitted to live in a halfway house for the next six months before moving to a small, unidentified community. He has also been ordered to undergo psychological counselling and is barred from having any form of contact with the Yatim family.
According to the decision, Forcillo took responsibility for Yatim's death.
"You believe that you rushed your decision-making contrary to your training. You expressed remorse for your actions that resulted in the death of the victim and the loss felt by his family," the decision reads. "This acknowledgment of responsibility and expression of remorse was genuine."
Upenieks challenged those assertions, saying Forcillo repeatedly claimed he was following his training during his various court proceedings.
The parole board also said Forcillo had a "dismissive" attitude upon arriving in custody but had addressed the issue.
"You apologized to staff," the decision reads. "You explained your behaviour was a protective facade as you were struggling with your offences and incarceration. You sought out employment as an offender caregiver to gain more understanding and patience."
The board said Forcillo has made plans to attend college upon his release from prison and presents a low risk to reoffend.
Forcillo was one of the first officers to respond to a July 2013 call about a teen exposing himself on the streetcar while brandishing a small knife. By the time police arrived, Yatim was the only person left on the streetcar.
Forcillo fired an initial three shots, which caused Yatim to fall to the floor of the streetcar, then fired a second volley of six more shots. His attempted murder conviction related to that second round of gunfire.
The officer appealed his conviction to Ontario's top court, which rejected his efforts to seek a new trial and found the second volley of shots to have been "clearly unnecessary and excessive." The Supreme Court of Canada also declined to hear his case.
Forcillo also ran into legal troubles not directly related to Yatim's death. The parole board decision said Forcillo breached his bail conditions while his legal proceedings were underway by lying about where he was living at one time.
He was supposed to live with his wife, but he moved in with a new fiancee after his marriage broke down and told court he was still at his original address. He pleaded guilty to perjury and had six months added to his sentence.
Criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown said an inmate can apply for full parole after serving a third of their sentence and may seek day parole six months before that.
But Brown said he was nonetheless taken aback by the parole decision in Forcillo's case.
"His early release is surprising considering his perjury conviction and the facts underlying that allegation," Brown said. "Most inmates standing in the shoes of James Forcillo would have been denied release based on that factor alone."
Upenieks said the recent parole decision raises questions about the ways in which those impacted by crime are kept abreast of developments in their cases.
Rules state that anyone wishing to learn of changes in a convict's status must send a victim notification request to the parole board or the Correctional Service of Canada. Those that do will be kept in the loop about developments such as parole hearings and release from custody.
Upenieks said a system that puts the onus on victims and their relatives to stay informed of developments is fundamentally flawed.
"They're grieving, and I don't think this should be an added responsibility," he said. "That can't be the way Canadian society should run."