Remembering Edmond Yu

Remembering Edmond Yu
Edmond Yu, Christmas Day 1996, DICK LOEK / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Last weekend, in the city’s deep freeze and the NBA All-Star game, I thought about Edmond.  Yesterday, walking past the opening of Saks 5th Avenue and seeing the man on the street asking for money, I thought of Edmond.  He is with me always when I walk downtown. I never met Edmond Yu but he changed my life.

Edmond Yu died at the hands of police on February 20, 1997 on TTC. The inquest into his death concluded two years later. It was my first inquest and I acted for the Queen Street Patients Council (which later morphed into the Empowerment Council). The inquest resulted in changes both bad and good to policing and mental health but it called for more non-medical safe houses for people in crisis. Edmond Place bears his name – a place that maybe would have been right for him had he lived.  So that maybe the street wouldn’t have torn him up as it did.

But a lot hasn’t changed. Cathy Crowe is still walking the streets to tend to Toronto’s homeless people. She and others have exhausted themselves by every possible means to end homelessness, to call for a national housing strategy, to end the cruelty in our extreme cold alerts (really, is there such a difference between -14 or -15) and to honour those people who have died in our streets.

Sammy Yatim was shot dead in a streetcar by a Toronto Police officer. 

But Edmond, the man who couldn’t hold his soup bowl because his hands shook because of the medication, who saw his sister for the red envelope days before his death -- he changed me. He taught me about voice. He taught me that medication isn’t always the answer. He taught me the value of having a place in this world. He introduced me to a world of people who survived the mental health system & the force used therein and were better and stronger for it.  He taught me that, in policing, time and talk are the most valuable weapons. He taught me that we can and must do a lot better.

I remember you Edmond. And in the years since I came to know you, I’ve tried to honour your struggle.