1. A Dysfunctional Toronto Police Service Board
In recent years there have been many complaints about the way the Toronto Police Service Board does its business. Most surprising and most disturbing is the Boards inability to structure its affairs to receive public input. This was made clear once again when members of the African Canadian community decided to walk out of a Board meeting on April 28 rather than adhere to the extraordinary terms set by its chairman for their participation.
The Board is established under provincial legislation and consists of seven members. Four are appointed by Toronto City Council, including the mayor (Mel Lastman), two councillors (Gloria Lindsay Luby and Frances Nunziata), and one citizen member (lawyer Alan Heisey). Three Board members are appointed by the provincial government: Norman Gardner; former Minister of Municipal Affairs in the government of Mike Harris, Al Leach; and Dr. Benson Lau, resident of York Region, but practising medicine in Toronto.
The chair of the Board is selected by the Board at its first meeting every year. The chair attracts annual compensation of just over $90,000, although its duties are little more than to chair the monthly meetings, and to speak for the Board on significant issues. Mr. Gardner has been chair for about 10 years, and uses his position to be the police man-about-town. Mr. Gardner was a member of North York and Metro Councils for several terms in the 1980s and 90s, and has had a long interest in policing matters.
A recent issue of great concern to Toronto communities is racial profiling. This discriminatory attitude has been alleged by people of colour for many years, but was given dynamic and independent confirmation by a series of the Toronto Star articles, based on Toronto police data documenting racial profiling by Toronto police.
The Police chief Julian Fantino, Board chair Norm Gardner, and leaders of the Police Association immediately challenged the conclusions reached by The Star, and said racial profiling does not exist, although recently various judges have stated that racial profiling by the police is a fact of life in Toronto.
After The Star articles appeared in October 2002, there was much interest by people of colour in appearing before the Board to express their concerns. They were invited to make a presentation to the Board at a meeting called for that purpose on February 24, but when they appeared they were required to listen to two `experts hired by Chief Fantino, both claiming that racial profiling does not exist and that The Star conclusions were junk science. Presentations were made by Prof. Edward Harvey (of the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto) and lawyer Alan Gold, and lasted well over two hours. Those who attended the meeting after being invited to speak were, to say the least, disenchanted, and they began to look for an alternative opportunity to present their side of the story.
Lawyer Julian Falconer was retained by the Urban Alliance of Race Relations, the African Canadian Legal Clinic, the Jamaican Canadian Association, and the Black Action Defence Committee to help arrange for a time when responses to Messrs Harvey and Gold could be made. On March 5 Mr. Falconer told the Board he wished to present two people to respond, Prof. Scot Wortley of the University of Torontos Department of Criminology, and lawyer David Tanovich. Both are considered experts in the area of racial profiling. Mr. Falconer asked for a period of 90 minutes for these presentations.
Chairman Gardner responded that the deputations would be limited to five minutes and advised that the Board was unwilling to allow a longer time period, although its by-laws permit the time limit to be extended by majority vote of the Board. Mr. Falconer replied that asking Professors Wortley and Tanovich to respond in five minutes to a report that took 2 ½ hours to present is both unreasonable and untenable.
But Chairman Gardner held firm and insisted that the Coalition would be given only five minutes. The positions advanced by the police leadership along with the refusal by the Board to accord the Coalition and its experts a reasonable opportunity to be heard, replied Mr. Falconer, render the prospect of working with the Toronto Police Services Board a completely useless exercise. He concluded his letter by saying Coalition members are not prepared to waste their scant resources with a board that is incapable of assuming an independent position from the police service over which is supposed to exercise oversight.
Why a majority of the Board refused to permit a response of more than 5 minutes on this issue is unclear, since Board members are unwilling to speak on the matter. A functional board would encourage full debate, particularly since this is a contentious issue, and the Police Board chair, the chief, and the association all seem to hold positions at variance with the courts, the media, the community and acknowledged experts. When a public board is unable to carry on a reasonable debate, one must conclude it is dysfunctional.
2. A Fresh Step for Policing
A number of community groups have been meeting over the past few months to try and agree on a specific set of recommendations about the major changes required to policing in Toronto. This initiative has been led by the Community Allies group which emerged form the racial profiling issue.
The following is the draft that has been tentatively agreed on, setting out two basic recommendations:
A FRESH STEP FOR POLICING
Many Torontonians lack adequate confidence in the police. Concerns abound about biased policing, arbitrary policing, inadequate service, key decision-making occurring behind closed doors, and lip service being paid to involving the community. Meanwhile, the police budget is bigger than ever, while funding for other essential community services and programs - programs that balance the agenda for healthy safe community - have been drastically reduced or eliminated.
The police may be ones who are best able to counter various kinds of crime, but they can not create strong, safe, and secure communities on their own.
Two changes are immediately needed to address such concerns.
The first change is designed to ensure that Torontonians learn about key policing developments in a timely fashion and solid recommendations about police policies and practices are identified and followed up on.
Consider the following. There has long been a widespread sense that police bias has had a serious impact on racial minorities. From time to time, official government ordered reports have confirmed community experience. But too often recommendations gather dust. And then by happenstance, reports like the recent Toronto Star expose suggest that police themselves hold vital information that rarely comes to light without a long and costly fight. Meanwhile the police authorities, including senior officers and the civilian managers at the police services board, have, at times, resisted disclosure, and at others, denied responsibility. The result is the wholesale erosion of public confidence.
The same sorts of things might be said regarding other controversies. Whether the issue is racial bias, sexual bias, complaints about police behavior, or the budgeting system, transparency and effective implementation are missing. Without these, public confidence can not be sustained. Indeed, without sustained public involvement, these sorts of problems are only likely to fester and grow.
What is needed is a permanent independent body (other than that of the managers on the Police Service Board) to audit the police service on a regular basis and report publicly on problems and recommendations.
Accordingly, our first recommendation is the creation of a permanent independent agency to audit the activities of the Toronto police. The audit body would report publicly and regularly on the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Force's practices, policies and programs, make recommendations for implementation and track their progress.
The second change relates to the provincially regulated police complaints system - a system hopelessly impaired in the way it relies on police to investigate and judge themselves.
There is little more frustrating for Toronto residents than to feel they have been badly treated by members of the police force and then find that there is no satisfactory manner of ensuring that their complaint is dealt under a fair and impartial system. The frustration is aggravated by the current approach which prevents a bystander who actually sees someone being badly treated by police from even filing a complaint.
Accordingly, our second recommendation is that Toronto citizens and civic leaders should pressure the Ontario government to establish an independent civilian body with the responsibility to: a) receive and review all complaints concerning police conduct and policy, including those made by third parties: and, b) investigate and adjudicate all such complaints.
The expectation is that this document will be endorsed by a number of organizations and will then be widely distributed in the hope it can form the basis of debate about policing in Toronto leading to the November municipal election and the provincial election campaign, which may happen anytime within the next 12 months.
Those who are part of a group wishing to endorse the statement are invited to email details regarding the endorsation to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Policing Demonstrations
So far, the attempts of Police Chief Julian Fantino to put the strong arm of the law on those who would organize demonstrations in Toronto has not found the political support he had hoped. But the issue is not yet dead, and may be revived when it surfaces at Toronto city council on May 21.
At the March 27 Police Service Board meeting, Fantino recommended three new ways to control demonstrations. One would be to seek deterrent sentences against those arrested by the police and convicted of offences at demonstrations; another was requiring prior police approval for all demonstrations through a permit system; and a third would require those seeking to hold a demonstration to post a bond for any damage caused during the event.
Even the Police Service Board was unwilling to agree with these proposals. It simply received the Chiefs report, and suggested that city hall introduce a permit system if it wanted to.
When the matter came to the appropriate committee of city council in late April, the committee decided not to hear any presentations - not even from Chief Fantinos representative but simply received the matter and took no further action.
But thats not the end of the matter. The committee decision is being reported to city council when it meets on May 21, and council can, by majority vote, re-open the matter and send it back to the committee for discussion. Given the current state of Toronto City Council, it is entirely unpredictable what council will do.
The federal Minister of Justice, Martin Cauchon, has warned the Police Service Board against a hard-line approach to demonstrations. In a letter dated July 24, 2002, Cauchon rejected the Boards earlier request to amend the Criminal Code to target masked demonstrators. He suggested the Board should be more positive, advising that Many police services in Canada, however, are reviewing their operational policies and procedures in relations to crowd control in order to create greater trust and co-operation with demonstrators.