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SIU clears Toronto officer who fatally shot man in crisis during wellness check

Ontario's police watchdog has cleared a Toronto officer who fatally shot a man in crisis during a wellness check, saying the officer feared for his partner's life at the time.

Ontario's police watchdog has cleared a Toronto officer who fatally shot a man in crisis during a wellness check, saying the officer feared for his partner's life at the time.

The Special Investigations Unit says Toronto police were called to a midtown condo building on May 22 after a woman reported that her son was in distress and had hit her.

The SIU says four officers attempted to speak with the 28-year-old man from outside the apartment to see if he was OK, but then used a key provided to them to go inside.

It says the man had a knife and told the officers to get out, then followed them into the hallway and attacked one of them.

The agency says two officers used their stun guns to no effect.

Shortly afterwards, the SIU says, one of the officers shot the man in the back. The man was handcuffed and taken to hospital, where he died.

One of the officers was also taken to hospital to be treated for superficial cuts to an arm, cuts to his head and shoulder, and a stab wound in the back, the SIU says.

"With respect to the gunshot to the complainant’s back, I am unable to reasonably conclude that it was not legally justified," Joseph Martino, the SIU's director, wrote in a report.

"The complainant was in the middle of a knife attack on (a witness officer) when the (subject officer), fearing for his partner’s life, fired his weapon. At that moment, there is no doubt that the complainant constituted a real and imminent threat of grievous bodily harm and death to (the witness officer)."

Martino noted the officers "gave little thought" to calling a mobile crisis intervention unit, which pairs mental health nurses with police officers who have received special training. He said that under the force's current policies, it appears one should have been requested.

At the same time, there is no way to know whether that would have led to a "more positive outcome," Martino wrote. 

He added the officers' "indiscretion" did not disqualify them from using force in the face of a knife attack.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2021.

The Canadian Press