This bulletin is published monthly by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, 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. Our website is http://www.tpac.ca.
In this issue:
- Question for municipal candidates
- Toronto Police force expands
- The danger of complaining about police activity
- Ending the suspension payout
- Race and police use of force
- Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Questions for municipal candidates
There are good questions to be asked of those running for Toronto City Council on November 13, 2006. Here are four questions that we suggest you ask candidates or raise at all-candidates’ meetings.
a) How will you work to reduce racial profiling by police?
b) Currently 45 per cent of our property tax dollars are spent just to maintain the police service. The additional police officers being hired mean more costs. How should this extra cost be paid — by raising property taxes? or by cutting other municipal services, and if so, which ones?
c) Police say violence against women is a main priority for action. Do you support this priority, and what should police do to fulfill it?
d) Do you agree with Police Chief William Blair that officers should not receive full pay while they are under suspension for serious work-related actions?
There is never enough debate about police issues in municipal politics. Asking these questions will help to begin that debate. Relay interesting responses to TPAC at firstname.lastname@example.org .
2. Toronto Police force expands
In early September the Toronto Police force took on 160 new officers in their current plan to expand by a total of 300 officers. This was an opportunity to create more diversity on the force so to better represent the population of Toronto.
But the improvement in representation was minor. Thirty percent of the new officers are people of colour; fourteen percent are women. If this new set of officers were to reflect the population of Toronto at least thirty-five percent should be people of colour and at least fifty percent should be women. However, the head of the recruitment division was quoted in the newspapers to the effect that it is difficult to get some people (probably he means people of colour) to apply for positions in the police force because they think “it is not an honourable profession”. In respect to that observation there could be two responses: maybe the police force should change so that people of colour think it is an “honourable profession”; or may be this is a strategy of blaming those who didn’t apply.
With this kind of recruitment strategy it seems unlikely that the police force in Toronto will reflect the diverse population of the city for many, many yeas.
More officers now in police college will be hired in December. In all likelihood the diversity within these new hires will not be much different from those brought into the force this month.
3. The danger of complaining about police activity.
There has been so much anger about the existing complaints system of the Toronto Police that the Ontario government has introduced Bill 103 to implement the LeSage recommendations for an independent police complaints commission. Unfortunately, the government is proceeding very slowly with this bill and has not yet given it second reading. It is unclear when it might be law.
Police officer Michael McCormack, now a candidate to become the President of the Toronto Police Association in its upcoming election, has suggested that if he is elected president he will enact a policy that the Association will support an officer who sues anyone who files a complaint that is withdrawn or found to be false. He said that if it is found the complaint is malicious then financial damages would be sought including going after the complainant’s house or car.
Mr. McCormack appears likely to be elected president of the Police Association, given his high profile in the force and that his father was a former chief. His statement sends out another signal that the police force sees anyone critical of its activities as an enemy who should be silenced or squashed. This Police Association has a long history of acting in this way. It set a private detective on a member of the Police Services Board, Judy Sgro, who had too many useful ideas about changing the police. It threatened so much legal action against Olivia Chow when she was a member of the Board that she resigned. It instituted the True Blue Campaign where those who gave a donation to the Association received a bumper sticker allowing the police to know who were their supporters; the campaign was finally withdrawn after complaints from the Police Service Board. It became political several municipal elections ago, endorsing candidates, an activity the Board rules was contrary to the law.
There are good mechanisms currently in place that will deal with unreasonable complaints that are made to the police. They do not need to be bolstered by intimidation tactics of the Police Association.
TPAC member Anna Willats wrote to the Toronto Star regarding Mr. McCormack’s announcement, contrasting it with the situation when police charge people but never show up in court. Here is an excerpt from her letter:
“Presumably Mr. McCormack would agree then, that the average citizen has the right to compensation when police falsely accuse them of a crime, charge them, and then don’t show up in court or are not believed by a judge, resulting in the dismissal of charges. He can surely commiserate with those people whose lives are put on hold, whose reputations are tarnished by charges hanging over their heads, who lose salary for missed work and spend money on lawyers they don’t need, just because an officer has been sloppy or has acted in bad faith. I can assure him that this happens to many people in this city every year, most often those who have little power and who live on the street or in the very neighbourhoods the Star has been telling us to ‘Ask Why’ about over the last few days.
“At a time when the public has been asking for and working on a better, more accessible and accountable police complaints system, as envisioned in the LeSage report, McCormack and the officers who support his proposal seem to be more and more out of touch with the average Toronto resident. The current system has been shown to offer too much protection of police officers who abuse their power, and has been inaccessible to the very people who are most likely to need it.
“Fear of retaliation by police and lack of trust in the effectiveness of the complaints system are the biggest reasons people don’t use the system we have. McCormack’s proposal would set us even further back.
“McCormack and the rest of the police association should be looking for ways to build trust with the people they serve, should focus on marginalizing officers who break that trust, and should demonstrate a commitment to accountability and civilian oversight. Police already have the right to sue someone for defamation of character or libel if there is evidence. To make this a campaign platform in an internal election process is misleading and seems designed to intimidate civilians and beef up McCormack’s image as a protector of his fellow officers, whether they are right or wrong.
“We’ve already had a bellyful of this in Toronto – it’s time for new, progressive leadership in the TPA.”
4. Ending the suspension pay-out
Current law requires police forces to pay full salary to officers who are suspended for criminal charges or other misconduct until the full appeal period is over. This means that it is in the interests of an officer to appeal something for as long as possible because the pay will keep rolling in. Currently, one officer is alleged to have been receiving full pay for a period of six years while he is under suspension.
Chief William Blair recommended to the Toronto Police Service Board on September 28 that the Board should ask for the Police Service act to be changed so that the Chief has some discretion particularly in cases of serious criminal offenses. The Board agreed with this proposal although members of the Toronto Police Association spoke against it.
This kind of request for a legislative change has been made to previous provincial governments without effect.
5. Race and police use of force
Scott Wortley of the Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto, has recently submitted a study to the Ipperwash Inquiry regarding police use of force and race. His report reviewed police use of force cases investigated by the Special Investigations Unit in Ontario for the period January 1, 2000 to June 6, 2006 during which the SIU completed just over 1,000 investigations.
The study’s conclusion is as follows: “The results of our focus group discussions, consistent with the results of previous survey research, strongly suggest that a large segment of Canada’s Black community believes that the police are much more likely to use physical force against Black people than people from other racial groups. The results of our research on SIU records suggest that such concerns are warranted. Indeed, in Ontario, African Canadians and Aboriginal Canadians are greatly over-represented in police use of force incidents. Hopefully, this data can close the debate over whether Aboriginal and Black residents are more exposed to police use of force than White people. They are.”
Wortley concludes his study with these tantalizing words: “There is considerable research to suggest that certain policies and regulations can reduce police use of force in general and violence against minorities in particular. Indeed, in the United States, such policies and regulations have been credited with dramatically reducing the over-representation of African Americans in police shooting statistics over the past twenty years. In the final report, we will discuss the research literature on these policies and make specific recommendations that may be suitable to the Canadian context.”
This further report will be available at the end of October.
Wortley’s report can be found at http://www.ipperwashinquiry.ca. Go to the section on Policy and Research, then to Projects Prepared by Parties to the Inquiry, and scroll down to African Canadian Legal Clinic. The URL is as follows: http://www.ipperwashinquiry.ca/policy_part/projects/pdf/AfricanCanadianClinicIpperwashProject_SIUStudybyScotWortley.pdf
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