Unlike his friend Sammy Yatim, who met the same fate as he did, Wettlaufer will likely not occupy a large part of public consciousness, owing to the singular absence of video documenting his demise. I suppose that is why there was absolutely no followup on last night's news; the media were consumed instead by the attack on two soldiers by Ayanle Hassan Ali at a recruitment centre, an attack that Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders was only to happy to hold a press conference about, despite the usual official reticence 'because the investigation is ongoing.' Silence thus far is the only official response to the killing of Alex.
But one media outlet has not forgotten the young man whose life was so cruelly cut short. Today's Toronto Star, in a solid editorial, bears witness to that life and discusses, as I tried to do yesterday, the implications of his death. I am taking this opportunity to reproduce the entire piece, one that I hope you will read:
Another police shooting can’t be brushed asideDoesn't Alex Wettlaufer deserve to be remembered by all of us, not just his devatated family and friends?
We’ll have to wait weeks or months for the official version of what exactly went down late Sunday night in a park in North York. But even before all the facts are known, there are serious questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of Alex Wettlaufer.
He’s the 21-year-old man who was shot dead by Toronto police just before midnight on Sunday. The province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is on the case, so the usual veil of silence has been drawn over the incident.
But this much is known: Police say they had “preliminary information” that two men were fighting at the Leslie subway station and one of them had a gun. Investigators say one man fled into the nearby park. There was a confrontation with police, and Wettlaufer was fatally shot.
Wettlaufer’s family, however, tells a very different story. They describe him as a quiet man with a full-time job whose ambition was to join the military. His mother, Wendy, says he was on his cellphone in the park, talking to a family member, at the moment he was shot. “He was crying, saying that he’s being surrounded,” she told CP24. “They kept telling him to put the weapon down, and he kept hollering telling them he didn’t have a weapon.”
Did Wettlaufer have a gun? Or did police mistake his cellphone for a weapon? These are among the questions that SIU investigators, who look into all deaths involving police, must try and answer amid the disturbing claims from Wettlaufer’s family.
Without video or other independent evidence, though, they will have to rely mainly on the version provided by police themselves. Wettlaufer cannot give his side. And in the wake of the Sammy Yatim shooting, many people will be understandably skeptical of the story told by police.
Yatim’s death in 2013 was captured on video from multiple angles. It showed a Toronto policeman, Const. James Forcillo, shooting Yatim eight times on an empty, stopped streetcar. In January, Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder – but there’s little doubt that without the video evidence he would have gone free. That’s what happened with every other officer charged with murder or manslaughter.
Ironically, Wettlaufer attended the same school as Sammy Yatim and they were said to be friends. The public was shocked by Yatim’s death because the video showed conclusively that it simply didn’t have to happen. He was trapped alone on the streetcar and there was no good reason to shoot him. Chief Mark Saunders himself acknowledged at the time that his force had lost public trust.
After that, Torontonians are in no mood to quietly accept the death of yet another young man in questionable circumstances. His shooting is another argument for all officers to wear body cameras, so there would be independent confirmation of how the confrontation developed.
In the absence of that, the public will expect a thorough investigation that does not take the official explanation at face value.
UPDATE: There is a gogundme campaign to help cover Alex's funeral. If you might be interested in contributing, please click here.