Hold Your Fire postponed – again

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So sorry to announce that Hold Your Fire has been delayed again. Final arguments were right on schedule in the trial of James Forcillo, the Toronto Police officer accused of 2nd degree murder in the 2013 shooting of Sammy Yatim. The jury was scheduled to begin deliberating early next week but the judge is ill and has postponed his charge to the jury. We can’t broadcast until the jury begins deliberating. So we’re once again sorry to be disappointing people who’d planned to watch…especially the people we filmed for the documentary. we’ll keep you posted. Sounds like mid-February now for CBC Firsthand broadcast


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8-Mike-Pond-and-Maureen-PalmerDon’t miss Bountiful’s next film, Wasted, Thursday January 21st, 8pm, on CBC’s The Nature of Things.  The premise: Maureen follows psychotherapist Mike Pond, a recovered alcoholic 5 years sober and Maureen’s partner, as he searches for the best new evidence-based treatments for addiction. At least that was the premise. Shortly after filming began, Mike drank again, which made the search for new treatment options very personal and urgent, because in the past the go-to treatment -AA and the 12 steps-didn’t work for him. He needed something else. “After the relapse Sue Dando, The Nature of Things executive producer, urged me to get in front of the camera, because how I dealt with the relapse became an essential part of the film,” says Maureen.  “I’m the director and a character in my own film. I’ve never felt more conflicted in my life. The storyteller in me knew the relapse made for a much more compelling film. Yet the more we came to understand what causes addiction, the more we realized continuing to film actually made Mike’s condition worse. How does it all turn out? Tune in on the 21st to find out!

New air date – Hold Your Fire

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0-Hold Your Fire-Title Card copyThis is the documentary that was originally scheduled for broadcast in October…the day before, CBC decided to pull it because of the ongoing trial in Toronto of the officer charged in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim.

Hold Your Fire was made with the understanding that its broadcast might well coincide with the trial. Of course it was also thoroughly “lawyered” so we felt confident it was “good to go”. But CBC was concerned that, as careful as we’d been, the doc was too powerful to risk the chance of jury members viewing it, against the judge’s instructions to ignore all media. CBC didn’t want to take any chances that we’d cause a mistrial.

Since closing arguments in the trial began today, and the jury is expected to begin deliberating late this week or early next, we are back in the broadcast schedule. Hopefully the trial stays on schedule and the doc gets on the air this time around. It’s a bit anxiety-inducing for all of us involved in the production but it’s quite dreadful for affected families who have to wait again to witness their loved one’s story unfold on camera.

Here is the link to the CBC’s page for Hold Your Firehttp://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/episodes/hold-your-fire

Tune in January 14th, 9pm to CBC TV’s Firsthand.

“Sad lack of government caring”

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When we started research for Hold Your Fire, we looked for statistics. We found it easy to enough to find out how many interactions there are between police and people in mental crisis in Canada’s major cities – police forces in Toronto and Vancouver were forthcoming with those statistics. But just try to find national statistics on how many police interactions with people in crisis ended badly! Police in every province keep records differently – and view sharing them differently too!

Simon Fraser University’s Dr. Rick Parent calls the lack of national stats on police shootings of people in crisis a “sad lack of government caring.” He looked at BC inquests for 2000-2009 to come up with a number: 30 shootings = 30% of police shootings over that time period were of people exhibiting “irrational behaviours.”

But we needed a national number, and one that’s more up-to-date. Most importantly, we wanted to see if the problem is getting better or worse.

Enter the amazing Yvette Brend. Yvette is Chief Researcher at Bountiful Films and she took on the painstaking task of acquiring and reviewing inquest records from across Canada for 2004 – 2014. She found the number per capita of police shootings of people in mental crisis is going up. Her most conservative estimate is that it stands now at about 40%.


We say “about” and “conservative” because not all inquest records had detail about state of mind and also because of the variance in how different provinces keep statistics. For instance, in populous Ontario, if the Special Investigations Unit takes on a case, it doesn’t provide public information on state of mind.

So we’re quite sure the national number is much greater. And you’ll get another perspective on just how conservative Yvette was in her calculations if you read Travis Lupick’s terrific piece in The Georgia Straight. He looked at BC inquest records over five years and included addiction issues. Then the number goes up to 90%!

Such a sad souvenir

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Jackie Christopher with the box that was returned to her after the inquest into her son's death in a police shooting. It almost certainly contains the clothes he died inThose of us who have the privilege of making documentaries spend months and years involved with the people whose stories we’re telling. As well as an honour, it is something of a joyful burden. We want to get it right – the facts and the emotional reality.

Like any big project, it comes together step by step and, for long periods of time, one thinks about the individual steps, not the entire weight of the story. Throughout the making of Hold Your Fire, sometimes the sad power of a storyline would suddenly stop me in my tracks. I think that was true for everyone who worked on the film. There was a lot of sighing going on in edit rooms and sound studios.

One of the scenes that stays with me – Jackie Christopher holding a box that came back to her by courier after the inquest into her son’s death in a police shooting. It’s his last possessions and she knows it must contain the clothes he died in. Eleven years since he died and she still can’t open it. Or throw it out either.

But throughout production, I didn’t think only of the people shot, and the families, but also about the police officers whose lives were forever changed too. It’s true what they say that no officer goes to work planning to shoot somebody that day. If only they can be prepared in such a way that the shooting of a person in crisis is the rarest of occurrences.


Paul Boyd would be 48 today

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Paul Boyd on his 2nd birthday, September 30, 1969

It’s Paul Boyd’s birthday today. He’d be 48 if he hadn’t been killed in a police shooting in 2007.

Since his college years, Paul had suffered from a mental illness most easily described as bipolar disorder. But he still managed to get himself educated and find meaningful work as one of Vancouver’s top animators. Paul worked on Gary Larson’s TV specials, Tales from the Farside, and he contributed his talents to the stunningly beautiful film At the Quinte Hotel. 

In 2007 Paul’s mother, with whom he was very close, was dying of ALS. Paul was devastated and his illness worsened. He was on Granville Street, shouting at people, when police were called to a possible assault in progress. (There was no assault.) Paul was shot by police 2 ½ minutes after they arrived at the scene.

Paul’s death was a huge news story in Vancouver – not just when it happened but also 4 ½ years later, in 2012, when a video surfaced out of the blue showing that he was on his hands and knees at the time the fatal shot was fired. That visual was at odds with the police version of events.

David Boyd stands at the corner where his son was killed

One part of the story that hasn’t been told – why Paul was even on the street that August night. When his possessions were returned to his father after the legal proceedings wrapped up, David Boyd saw something in his son’s last notebook that police had over-looked or thought unimportant: Paul was apparently looking for medical help that night. David Boyd took us out onto Granville Street for what was a very poignant tour of his son’s final hours. 

Paul and his sister Deb on his 2nd birthday 

Paul Boyd, September 30, 1967-August 13, 2007

Numbers only tell part of the story

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When we first started researching Hold Your Fire, we spent a long time looking for answers in statistics – trying to figure out if the increase in police shootings of people in crisis is simply because there are so many interactions. We ended up concluding that the question we really had to look at is – how can any police shooting of a vulnerable person be prevented? – because the number of interactions just keeps going up.

Police have become de facto frontline mental health workers as police services struggle to keep up with a mental health crisis that has effectively been dumped in their laps. Jennifer Chambers of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction & Mental Health says the economy is partly to blame – once people lose housing they’re more likely to end up in personal crisis. In Toronto in 2014, police handled 20,000 interactions with people in crisis. (In Vancouver, one spokesman said the annual number is closer to 30,000.)

Homeless man in Toronto checks on another man who's sleeping rough

While filming in downtown Toronto to illustrate the point about the link between the economy and people in mental crisis, we met a man named Alexander who consented to be filmed going about his day with all his worldly possessions in a shopping cart. When we said good-bye, we gave him a little money to say thank you. Unbeknownst to him, we filmed one last shot of Alexander as he rolled his cart away down the street…and then stopped, to give the money away to another homeless person who was fast asleep on top of a heating vent. You couldn’t help but be moved.

Broken Trust

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Three families are featured in Hold Your Fire and it is impossible to describe the depth of their sorrow. Losing a loved one suddenly is terrible for anyone. Losing them violently is worse yet. And losing them violently at the hands of someone you trusted is profoundly sad and difficult to comprehend. Michael MacIsaac’s widow, Marianne, describes it as “absolute horror.”

Michael MacIsaac with wife Marianne

Another common thread linking the families is a sense that their loved one was not only killed but also somehow blamed for their own death. In the various attempts to explain their actions, police focused on what they saw as a threat, and that was generally the first story told publicly. David Boyd said his son was portrayed as a brute – until a video surfaced years after the shooting that revealed Paul Boyd was on his hands and knees when the final shot was fired.

Paul Boyd on the right, with his father, nephew and sister

What if it was your brother shot by police?

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Sammy Yatim shooting July 2013 copy

We began actively researching a documentary about policing and people with mental health problems about 2 ½ years ago, shortly after Sammy Yatim was killed by police on a streetcar in downtown Toronto. I say “actively” researching because my Bountiful Films partner, Maureen Palmer, and I (Helen Slinger) have been exploring this topic for many more years.

We were partly inspired by a friend who we feared could become a shooting statistic. He’s a brilliant and gentle man who sometimes lives in another reality where he hears voices and behaves very differently from average folk. He’s had several interactions with police that have all ended happily but the other possibility haunts his family.

I remember sitting one summer afternoon with his sister during a particular bad period when the delusions were many and powerful. She worried about her brother heading downtown that afternoon on his own. What if he caused a scene and came up against a police officer who didn’t understand? So many Canadian families live with this fear. And some, including families you’ll meet in the film, have it realized.

In the documentary Hold Your Fire, we tried to figure out how officers who signed up genuinely wanting “to serve and protect” could ever end up shooting a vulnerable person – and what can be done to change that.

Debuts Thursday, October 22 at 9pm (9:30 NT) on CBC TV’s FIRSTHAND.