Future of Blair? Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 81

John Sewell —

This Bulletin is published by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC), a group of individuals and organizations in Toronto interested in police policies and procedures, and in making police more accountable to the community they are committed to serving.




1. Iacobucci Review of Lethal Use of Force

The Honourable Frank Iacobucci was retained last Fall by Chief Blair to review the use of lethal force by the Toronto Police Service following the shooting death by police of Sammy Yatim. Mr. Iacobucci asked that views of third parties such as TPAC be submitted by the end of February.

TPAC submitted a lengthy brief touch on: the policy vacuum at the Toronto Police Services Board on police and those mental crisis; more appropriate training for officers than `command and control’; more appropriate recruitment practises involving job descriptions and apprenticeships; better supervision by a stronger Police Board; expanded Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams used as first or co-responders; learning from bad outcomes; and more. Our full brief can be found at http://www.tpac.ca/issues.cfm

One concern we have about the Iacobucci Review is cost. The review of the G20 by Mr. Justice Morden incurred a bill of more than $1 million. The Iacobucci Review is being carried out by the Torys law firm which has the similar high billing rates. We are worried that a similar amount will be spent on this Review when it is doing not much more than collecting the opinions of others and filtering them through Mr. Iacobucci’s well respected mind. When one thinks of the very useful ways in which $1 million in property taxpayers’ money could be spent in Toronto, there are good questions as to whether this Review should be given that money. Couldn’t the Board or the Chief indicate that the upset fee will be $200,000, which is still a very significant amount??

The Review can be contacted at tpsreview@torys.com  .

2. Ministry’s study on police and those in mental crisis

Four members of TPAC met with Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Corrections and Community Safety at the end of January. We wanted to talk about the studies underway by the ministry since May 2012 into the police and those in mental crisis, as well as the ministry’s decision in early August 2013 to allow all officers in Ontario to deploy tasers. About a dozen ministry staff were present, and after the meeting the ministry forwarded to us documents referred to,  particularly The  Phase I report, ‘Gathering the Evidence’ of the Police Interaction with Persons with a Mental Illness.

TPAC is very disappointed in the quality and focus of this material which took a year to compile. It was surely prompted by the Minister’s concern with “police interactions with persons with a mental illness” and the recent series of killings of mentally ill people in crisis by police.  But this Phase 1 report has almost no focus on the crucial issue of the interaction of the police and a mentally ill person who is clearly a danger to self or others. Almost no attention is given to the initial interaction of police which is where the deaths of those in mental crisis often occur.

The matter is being given wide attention by other bodies – The Honourable Frank Iacobucci’s Review, the study by the Ombudsman, and the study by the OIPRD, the recent coroner’s jury recommendations – and we urged the Ministry to engage with this issue. We think the Ministry should be focusing on how adverse interactions between the police and the mentally ill can be reduced so that the mentally ill are not killed or tasered by police. There should be some exploration of how different responses can be made to such incidents and pilot projects tried to see what works best. It is also important to question the training of officers to use a command and control approach, and to change the Use of Force protocol to give a much larger role to de-escalation tactics.   We asked the Ministry to change direction to focus on these critical issues.

As for Phase 2, which the Ministry is now engaged in, this will deal with recommendations for change. The Minister told us that there is no completion date for phase 2.

Regarding the decision on taser use, see Item 6 in this Bulletin.

3. Coroner’s jury recommendations on individuals killed by Toronto police

A coroner’s jury which was considering the deaths of three individuals with mental issues, all at the hands of Toronto police in 2012 – Reyal Jardine-Douglas, Sylvia Klibingaitis, and Michael Eligon – made its recommendations in mid-February. It was a comprehensive set of 74 proposals, many touching on the very same issues that other such juries have recommended on the past such as different and better training, more studies about tasers, and more Mobile Crisis Intervention Units. Various levels of government are now reporting on these recommendations.

Another coroner’s jury looked into the death of 45 year old Charles McGillivary on August 1, 2011 on Bloor Street. He had a disability and could not speak; the police had thought he was someone else, but when he didn’t obey their command to stop walking, he was tackled by a `leg sweep’ and felled to the sidewalk. He fought the police as they tried to handcuff him, and the police refused to listen to his mother who told them to stop hurting her son. He died on the street. The jury deemed his death `an accident’ as though the police bore no responsibility for wrongfully attacking this person and causing his death.

A number of social organizations led by PARC (Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre) are asking for serious changes from the Toronto Police. For more information, call 416 535 8501 x 33013.

4. OPP’s racial profiling of immigrants

When the Ontario Provincial Police were looking for a suspect in a violent sexual assault in the Tillsonburg area last August – someone dark-skinned, tall, and in his 20s – they decided the best way to determine who that person was to get DNA samples from all 100 dark-skinned immigrants working in the area. Half of those who were asked for DNA samples were over 40 and half were short, according to the group Justicia for Migrant Workers. It seems like a classic case of racial profiling.

The matter has been brought to the attention of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, who says he is undertaking a review of this as a systemic complaint.

5. The cost of learning how many cops Toronto needs

As reported in Bulletin 80, Chief Blair undertook a report in early 2013 about the number of police officer Toronto needs. Our attempts to get details about the study – the terms of reference, who got the contract, the cost – were all denied. The information was finally released in January. The report(s) were done by the international consultancy Accenture. One cost $497,000; another $340,000, for a total of $837,000. It’s an astounding amount of money and one can understand that if this detail was released before the money was spent the public might have objected. The reports have not been released – the chief says that will happen at the April meeting – but apparently they say Toronto needs upwards of 200 more police. The Board refused to take ownership of the expenditures. Chair Mukherjee said “It’s the chief’s report,” as though the Board has no responsibility for the decisions made by the chief.

The Chief’s Internal Organizational Review (CIOR) report was done to find efficiencies in the police service, but it recommended changes which increase expenditures. One trick was to show that in one function some 98 officers were doing work that would be done in a better fashion and for less money by civilians – but then the 98 officers were simply added to the operational force. We asked to see the full report and were told it too will be released, also at the April meeting.

6. How the Ministry decided to expand taser use

When we met with Minister Meilleur and her staff in January, we learned how the ministry has decided to allow all officers in Ontario to deploy tasers. Reading the Minister’s announcement in early August, it seemed like she was proposing a 30 day consultation period on a new guideline for taser use, which is why many of us waited for the ministry to announce what the new guideline would be. We were mistaken. The 30 day period announced by the Minister in early August was not for consultation, only notice of the change in policy. She said there had been consultation before the announcement with various groups they consult with (certainly not TPAC, which has informed opinions on these matters.) She did consult with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and it has since said it was consulted briefly and expressed its opposition. The Ministry said the decision was made because there were two cases brought by police/management Health and Safety Committees to the Ontario Labour Relations Board asking for tasers, and the ministry did not want the OLRB to make decisions without specific constraints. The constraints that are part of the new guidelines are: mandatory training and annual reporting of use. But the ministry also changed the trigger for use so that it is not objective criteria that are met before a taser is used (the old policy called for `reasonable belief’) but now it is simply the officer’s belief of possible harm.

We asked the Ministry why it had decided not to use Braidwood criteria for use, namely that a taser could not be used unless the individual “is causing or will imminently cause bodily harm.” They said that was too risky and too late for officer to make a decision – the officer should intervene earlier. They cited research that claimed that when a taser was used there was much less injury caused to people and officers from things like fighting. We later reviewed the research they gave us, and found it sketchy, and it does not include de-escalation strategies as an option.

We asked if the ministry would require that all tasers be equipped with video cameras, and it said no to video tasers. It said the Ottawa police tried them and fingers get in the way of the video – a design flaw. They said lapel cameras are expensive, and were a question for another day.

7. Again, hope about limiting strip searches

Strip search data for 2013 was released at the February Board meeting and about 30,000 individuals were strip searched in 2013, similar to in 2012. Nothing was found in half the searches. Police say they found something in the other half of the searches – earrings, lighters, watches, lip balm, belts, keys, etc., the kinds of things found in pockets, not in underwear, making it clear that strip searches are mostly unnecessary except to humiliate.  Drugs are found less than 2 per cent of the time.

We again appeared and argued that a Level 2 (or pat down) search should be required before a Level 3 strip search was done, since that would indicate if people were trying to hide things in the underwear.  We referred to a letter that Gerry McNeilly, Office of the Independent Police Review Director, wrote to Chief Blair on October 3, 2103, stating “I remain deeply troubled by what appears to be a general over-use of strip searches by the Toronto Police Service and the routine strip searches of youths.”

There was about an hour long discussion of the issue at the Board. Deputy chief Federico said the justification for the search is that the officer believes it is incidental to an arrest, not that something will be found. He said not finding anything is not a reason for thinking there’s a problem with the policy or the practise. Wow.

Chief Blair argued that a Level 3 search was often less intrusive than a Level 2 pat-down since it was all visual. Wow. Some Board members seemed to think the pat down could involve sexual touching. Councillor Thompson wondered if there was any technology which could be used. The Board decided to refer the matter to Chair Mukherjee who will think about it and report back for the June meeting. The Chief will report on the criteria for doing a Level 2 and Level 3 search and how officers are trained to move from kind of search mode one to  the other.

It seemed as though the Board was really concerned about the issue, this time, although they were not ready to make a move. Can we hope for a change?

8. Police releasing information for clearance letters.

TPAC was one group (among many) involved in a committee meeting to draft a policy that the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police would recommend for adoption by Ontario police forces regarding clearance letters required by prospective employers. The committee proposed that the police only release information about convictions, outstanding charges and warrants – a considerable change from the current Toronto practise to release a variety of information such as charges that have been dismissed or withdrawn. Those proposals reflect TPAC’s position for the last five years.

We have just heard that OACP has written Ontario police forces with these new guidelines, asking them to consider enacting them in each force. WE have not yet seen the final letter, but it will make its way to the Toronto police service, when we will ask that it be adopted as a change to current policy.

9. Chief Blair and his future.

Chief Blair’s contract expires next April, and already some members of the Board – particularly councillor Michael Thompson – have said they do not want to extend the contract. One can imagine this issue will come to a head in the next seven or eight months as the municipal election looms in late October.

Another threat comes for Councillor Doug Ford, on behalf of his brother Mayor Rob Ford, who says the Chief has been going after his brother. Doug Ford says that Board member Andrew Pringle paid to take the Chief on a fishing trip at an exclusive salmon fishing club in New Brunswick last summer, and that constitutes a conflict in contravention of the Code of Conduct. Mr. Pringle was recommended for appointment to the Board by Mayor Ford, although he is now a fundraiser for John Tory who is a candidate for mayor. The Board says it has ordered an investigation of the matter.

There have also some thoughts that the Chief should not be continuing to conduct the surveillance on the mayor pursuant to an investigation into drug, violence and organized crime, surveillance that to date has involved the mayor in suspicious activities about drugs. On that point, Chief Blair wrote to the OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis on March 5, stating “I am writing to make a formal request that the Ontario Provincial Police assume an oversight role with respect to Project Brazen 2. As you are aware, Project Brazen 2 arose from the Toronto Police Service’s year-long Project Traveller, focusing on organized crime, violence, guns and drugs. I am taking this step to avoid the distractions that have assumed such recent prominence. The only public interest here is the continued investigation, without fear or favour, into evidence of possible criminality.” Mr. Lewis agreed to be responsible for oversight of the surveillance.