Toronto Police Accountability Coalition report
By John Sewell –
1. A fine police brawl
It has become a Toronto police tradition to hold a fight night—Fitenite—every spring to raise money for charity. The event consists of about 10 boxing matches of cops punching cops plus carryings-on appropriate to such an evening. This year, the event was held at a club near Toronto’s waterfront, and it was followed by an unscheduled punch-up in the parking lot.
At least four police officers were involved in the punch-up, and one constable from 33 Division was sufficiently injured to be rushed to the hospital for a CT scan. Perhaps the more significant problem was that the matter was fully reported two days later, on March 8, by the Toronto Star which then followed two days later with an editorial condemning the fight.
Regulation 123/98 under the Police Services Act says this kind of activity is ”discreditable conduct” and subject to prosecution. The regulation states that discreditable conduct occurs when an officer assaults any other member of a police force or when an officer acts in a manner likely to bring discredit upon the reputation of the police force.
It is unclear whether police officials have yet laid charges in connection with this incident. (Toronto Police Accountability Coalition) TPAC has inquired into the status of charges.
2. Fine tuning rules about police complaints
The Office of the Independent Police Review (OIPR) was established when Bill 103 was passed two years ago, and slowly it is setting itself up, apparently with the expectation that it will be open and available to accept complaints regarding police actions later this year. It has prepared draft rules of procedure, and has asked some groups to comment on them.
Toronto Police Accountability has provided comments. Many of the rules seem reasonable, but the following are some of our more substantive comments:
Rule 2.13 states that the Office operates in English and French, and that complainants will be responsible for their own translation for other languages.
We believe this requirement does not welcome or accommodate the many residents who speak other languages, indeed it discourages them from filing a complaint. We think the Office should be flexible enough to assist those who speak other languages, and should agree to assist in translation where necessary. We believe other provincial agencies provide such accommodation.
Rule 5.6 states that if the Office decides not to deal with a complaint, then that is the end of the matter.
We believe that when the Office makes a decision not to deal with a complaint, the complainant should be able to ask that the decision be reviewed, and that the Office will then conduct such a review.
Rules 5.8 to 5.10 deal with third party complaints.
We believe that third party complaints should not be limited as these rules states. Instead, the Office should adopt the system in the United Kingdom, where an individual merely had to have to been present when the subject of the complaint took place, or was distressed by the incident. Further, in the UK, organizations can file complaints, and the rules should specifically state that this can happen in Ontario. We think a more liberal approach should be taken to third party complaints to allow the broadest possible scope.
Rule 5.11 states where there are multiple complaints about same incident, one complaint can be accepted and the rest will be summarily dismissed.
We believe this rule is wrong. Where more than one complaint deals with the same incident, the complaints should be consolidated on consent of complainants so that the investigation can look into all the complaints and produce a report common for them.
New Rule 5.12. We believe there should be a rule which allows the complainant to protect his/her identity, and if the identity is not protected, to withdraw the complaint. Some may fear retribution – there are many allegations that the Toronto Police Association has investigated complainants – and to avoid such problems, identities should be permitted to be withheld.
Rule 7.8 states that police officer interviews will be recorded.
We believe it is appropriate that the complainant be permitted to request and receive a copy of this recording.
Rule 7.10 states the police must report to the Office on a complaint within 30 days.
We believe that is too long. Much useful evidence can disappear in that time. We think a more appropriate time frame is 14 days.
Rule 9.7 notes the reality that police officers will have the resources of their police association at their disposal during an investigation.
But the complainant has no resources at his/her disposal. As we argued in our March 23 letter to you, we believe it is necessary to ensure resources are available to the complainant. We stated in that letter:
“One method of assisting those who are thinking about making a complaint is to provide them with someone whose job it is to help them through the process – an advocate. This advocate would make it clear that s/he would be the main contact for that person at IPRO; would help with drafting the complaint; and once it was filed would support the complainant at each step along the way. Advocates for complainants is a good way to help balance out the inequality of power.
“Another way of assisting those thinking about making a complaint is by formally engaging the organizations they could be expected to rely on – especially community organizations and social agencies. Individuals will have confidence in making a complaint if they know that the organization they are part of is engaged in the process and will assist and support the complainant. We believe that your office should contract with organizations and agencies in appropriate neighbourhoods so they can free up staff time to work on these matters. We know that the experience of the Scadding Court Centre was that the assistance of local agencies was critical in the complaint process. This must be built into the way in which your office functions, and while it incurs a cost, we believe the cost is well warranted.
“The third way of assisting those thinking about making a complaint is to be very flexible in regard to the acceptance of third party complaints. The Independent Police Complaints Commission in the United Kingdom provides the example which should be followed her in Ontario. The website address is:
3. Six more years for Chief Blair
We were very concerned that at its May meeting, the Toronto Police Services Board, without notice or an opportunity for public debate, extended the contract of Bill Blair as chief of police for a further six years.
The occasion of filling a senior public position allows the opportunity of public debate about priorities for coming years. Making the decision without notice or public debate shows a significant lack of transparency on the part of the Toronto Police Services Board and a reluctance to encourage public debate about policing issues in Toronto.
There is a great need to set policing priorities for future years, and public debate on the renewal of the contract of the chief would have been a good way to do that. That debate would have raised a variety of important issues – should there be more emphasis on local policing? On foot patrols? New approaches on racial profiling? Should police be subject to the same cost controls as other local government services? Should crime prevention focus more on social and recreational programs than on police services? How can police deliver better services to women facing crimes of violence?
There are many other issues that concern the public about policing in Toronto and it would have been good to see them raised and debated.
The candidate could be asked about these questions, and about such matters as how he might control costs in the future. Since Bill Blair has shown he’s perfectly capable of expressing his views clearly and well, he could have added much focus to the debate.
Instead, the Board made its decision and then announced it. We expected more openness, more transparency.
4. The short sightedness of tough sentencing
When Parliament was still debating a Conservative Party bill to impose mandatory sentences for certain crimes, Else Marie Knudsen, as staff member with the Ontario branch of the John Howard Society, and a member of the steering committee of TPAC, wrote an op-ed piece for the Toronto Star titled `Better to be smart than tough on crime.’
Here are several excerpts.
“While many think that prisons serve to prevent crime, this is a function that they perform very poorly, if at all. Prisons are isolating, violent, overcrowded and stagnating places where people’s anti-social behaviours worsen. Though it may be counterintuitive, prison stays fail to have a deterrent effect, meaning that sending someone to prison in no way decreases the chance that they will reoffend after their release. In fact, research shows that many prison settings actually increase the likelihood that those who leave will reoffend. Compared to evidence-based correctional programs in the community, prison is very poor at reducing further criminal behaviour.
“Nor do sentences of incarceration have any meaningful general deterrent effect. Sentencing convicted people to certain or longer prison terms has no impact on the criminal behaviour of others. If it did, then the murder rate in Canada would have skyrocketed after the death penalty was abolished (in fact, it went down steadily in the years following, along with the general crime rate). So the argument that sending people to prison “teaches them a lesson” or “sends a message” to other bad guys is a fallacy.”
“If we want to be smart about crime, meaning that we want to make community safety the main goal of our criminal justice system, then imprisoning more people is not the answer.
“Mandatory minimum sentences legislation will have only one effect: sending many, many more people to prison. At an average cost of $164 per inmate per day in Ontario, this is an extraordinarily expensive mistake.”
There are strong arguments to be made for incarceration in respect to certain individuals and certain crimes (those part of an organized crime network, for instance) but the new legislation removes any discretion from the judge to apply a more appropriate sentence to others.
Unfortunately, the full Liberal Parry caucus supported the Conservatives on this Bill, so that it was overwhelmingly passed on Third Reading, with only the New Democratic Party and the Block Québécois in opposition.