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.

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