Police Accountability Bulletin: G20, Tasers, Body Cameras

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. G20 class action suit proceeds

The Ontario Court of Appeal has approved two class action lawsuits brought in respect to police kettling people during the G20 meetings in Toronto in June 2010. In a class action lawsuit, one or two individuals are given standing by the court to bring an action on behalf of a much larger group of individuals who had the same experience. In the cases permitted to proceed here, hundreds of people were effectively arrested by police for no reason related to criminal activity.

The court said police cannot arrest a larger group in the hope of fishing for particular individuals. The lawyers involved hope the cases will result in the disclosure of documents which police have so far refused to release, and also that it might result in substantial changes to police policy, something which has proven to be difficult to achieve.

Meanwhile, the senior officer who ordered the kettling, Superintendent Mark Fenton, was found guilty of discreditable conduct and unnecessary exercise of authority under the Police Services Act last August, but the hearing on the penalty is still to be concluded. The prosecutor has suggested demoting Fenton for a year, meaning he would lose $10,000 or more in pay. Fenton’s lawyer suggests a reprimand – a slap on the wrist – and loss of five days’ pay. Lawyers for the hundreds illegally arrested by Fenton’s actions think it is more appropriate that he be fired.

The hearing on the penalty is set to conclude in June, some ten months after the guilty findings, and six years after the events took place. Given the outcomes suggested by the prosecutor and the defense lawyer, and the extraordinary length of time involved in processing these charges, it is difficult not to conclude that the culture of impunity which seems to surround police wrong-doing is once again on clear display.

2. Trusting police officers to tell the truth

Last June, Justice Jane Kelly found that Toronto police Constable Juin Pinto had failed, according to a Toronto Star report, “to comply with his obligation to disclose the full details of his own disciplinary record to the court so that his credibility could be weighed. That record included insubordination and discreditable conduct. But rather than provide the full details Pinto submitted a “materially misleading,” watered-down document that had a negative impact on his credibility and on the reliability of his evidence, the judge found.” Because of what Constable Pinto had done, the judge dismissed the charges which he had laid.

In July 2015, TPAC asked the Toronto Board Services Board to institute a system for the disclosure of disciplinary records by an officer testifying in court “at least as good as other forces in the GTA.” In other jurisdictions, the disciplinary record of an officer is prepared by an independent third party, usually the Professional Services Unit of their police force. But not in Toronto: in Toronto the officer prepares his/her own disciplinary record and submits it to the court, which then makes it available to the defense lawyers.

Finally, at the April meeting, the Board had a report before it from the police chief recounting how other forces have independent verification of the disciplinary record but recommending that the Toronto system is perfectly fine as it is. TPAC challenged that report and suggested if the police service didn’t agree to have the reports prepared independently, then at least it should make the reports public by putting them on-line so defense lawyers know how the officer had behaved in the past.

Councillor Shelley Carroll argued for change, but led by Mayor John Tory the Board decided to continue with the way things are. The Board takes the view that we should trust Toronto officers to tell the truth, even though we know from at least the case of Juin Pinto that sometimes that does not happen.

TPAC’s question about the punishment Constable Juin Pinto suffered for lying to the court was not answered.

3. New carding regulation

Ontario Regulation 58/12, under the Police Services Act, was filed on March 21. This regulation attempts to control carding activities by police.

Many organizations thought the draft regulation issued last fall would not prevent arbitrary or discriminatory actions by police, and 58/12 made some attempt to respond to those criticisms, although some still think it does not do enough. Section 17 of the regulation provides it will be reviewed independently within two years.

The operative parts of the regulation come into force on January 1, 2017. Local police service boards are tasked with implementing the regulation.

4. Tasers back on the Toronto agenda

In October 2103, the Toronto Police Services Board held a hearing on providing all Toronto officers with conducted energy weapons – tasers. Forty-seven individuals spoke at that meeting: not one favoured more tasers for the police service, and the Board subsequently decided to go with that advice. See Bulletin 79, October 2013. (Many other police forces in the GTA, following the wide-open regulation of the provincial government, have armed all officers with tasers, at a cost of many millions of dollars.)

Get ready for that to change. The head of the Toronto Police Association has written the Board chair, Andy Pringle, saying all front line officers in Toronto should get a taser, and Chief Mark Saunders immediately agreed. Saunders was quoted by the Toronto Sun: “I just want to make sure my men and women have the best tools at the right moment so that the officers are safe, but the people they encounter also have safety too.”

He said he thinks the public mood on the issue has changed. “People have a much better understanding of using less lethal force and let’s revisit it so we can see what tools my officers can have so that we can have safer outcomes,” he said.

Chief Saunders was put in place by Pringle and by Mayor Tory. He has shown no interest in expanding the numbers of Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams, or of ensuring that they be first responders when the call involves a person in mental crisis. Instead, he likes the ideas of giving officers more weapons, as he has done with the `tender bullet’ or blunt impact projectile (See Bulletin No. 92, September 2015) and the Colt Carbine (See Bulletin 94, February 2016.) For the chief, new weapons trump de-escalation any day of the week, and one fears the Board will give him his way with tasers in spite of members of the public speaking out.

5. Police pay

With the recent release of the so-called `sunshine list’ of which government employees earn more than $100,000 a year, it is clear the police are no slouches in this area. Almost 80 per cent of Toronto officers earned more than 100 grand in 2015: 4282 officers in 2015, compared to 2063 in 2010. Of those, apparently six officers were in the category of earning without working: they were suspended with pay.

Toronto City Council looks as though it is ready to take a very minor swipe at officer compensation. It is asking the provincial government for an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act so a civilian, rather than a uniformed officer, can direct traffic around a construction site. That would mean that there would be a minor reduction in paid duty work, where officers receive $68 per hour for such tasks, and a small saving to the property taxpayer.

6. Body cameras for police?

The Toronto police service has recently concluded a ten month experiment with body cameras, but not much is known about what the experiment involved since the police did not say which officers were involved – for instance, did officers involved in the TAVIS units have cameras? – or when the cameras were turned on and off – when will something be public and when private, and for which purposes, and who decides this? – or the protocol of sharing video tapes with others, or how long tapes should be retained. An attempt to get the criteria for the experiment under Freedom of Information processes was unsuccessful.

As well, it appears there were no independent monitors during the experiment, nor was there any attempt to establish in advance the criteria for when the experiment would be considered a success or a failure. In short, there was nothing scientific about what the police did: basically they were undertaking an informal experiment. Perhaps something can be learned from that, perhaps not.

Almost 30,000 videos were caught by the cameras, running for a total of almost 4000 hours.

An evaluation report will be prepared by police, assisted by an independent Evaluation Advisory Panel of unnamed people, and it will be released in June.

By John Sewell for TPAC