Written by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
Fr. Estephanos Issa, pastor of St. Barsaumo Syriac Orthodox Church in Toronto, the parish that has rallied behind slain teen Sammy Yatim’s family. Fr. Estephanos Issa, pastor of St. Barsaumo Syriac Orthodox Church in Toronto, the parish that has rallied behind slain teen Sammy Yatim’s family. – Photo by Michael Swan
TORONTO – The Syriac Orthodox parish of St. Barsaumo has rallied around Sammy Yatim’s mother and sister in the aftermath of the youth’s July 27 shooting at the hands of Toronto police.
The parish has found a new apartment for the mother and daughter, is helping Yatim’s 16- year-old sister Sarah find work and has connected the mother with counselling.
“We are supporting her as a community and also doing some counselling with her. Of course, she’s still in the process of mourning,” said St. Barsaumo pastor Fr. Estephanos Issa. “She had a lot of dreams and goals for her son and they all died with her son.”
Sahar Bahadi, Yatim’s mother, was in the process of moving to Toronto to be reunited with her children when her son was shot in a confrontation with police on the Dundas streetcar. Bahadi had been living with some of her extended family in Montreal for the past year after having been forced out of Aleppo, Syria, by terrorist threats against her life. She had allowed her son to attend high school in Canada and live with her estranged husband, Yatim’s father, four years earlier.
Bahadi had been a respected pediatrician in Syria who had continued her work in Aleppo as the Syrian civil war broke out. In Canada she has been unable to find work.
The entire Syriac Orthodox community has been moved by the plight of Yatim’s family.
“They are in a very bad situation. They have no money, nothing. We try to support them,” said Issa. “She (Bahadi) is crushed. She is crying all the time, especially when she saw the second videotape. How he was killed, how he was breathing his last — she is always thinking of that, meditating on that, and always crying. She is in a terrible way.”
The Syriac Orthodox community has been equally shocked by what Issa calls “a very unnecessary death.” At the semi-annual youth retreat about 120 high school and university- aged youth gathered for a session to reflect and talk about Yatim’s death. The parish women’s group asked Issa to lead a conference and prayer evening focussed on Yatim’s death.
The community is unanimous in its conviction that there can be no justification for Yatim’s death, said Issa. “It was unnecessary and unjustifiable,” he said. At his Aug. 1 funeral, Yatim’s sister Sarah vowed to fight for justice for Sammy.
The priest also disputes media portrayals of Yatim as a troubled, possibly depressed and suicidal youth.
“The kid, he actually went to the best schools in Syria. He went to music. He learned swimming. He played the guitar. He was a boy scout. He actually was very involved in the community. Mentally, he was very OK, very alright. He was in the wrong place with the wrong crowd at the wrong time.”
Constable James Forcillo has been charged with second-degree murder. He fired nine times at Yatim, hitting him eight times. A second officer then tasered the boy on the floor of the streetcar. Ontario Ombudsman André Marin has launched an investigation into police policies around the use of force. Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is conducting an internal investigation. A coroner’s inquest is scheduled to begin Oct. 15.