1. The new Board Chair and the reality of police culture
According to reports in the press, on September 22, 2002, Alan Heisey, a member of the Toronto Police Service Board, attended a conference with members of the Toronto Police force and others on questions of sexual assault. At one point he was chatting with Detective Sergeant Paul Gillespie of the Sexual Crimes Unit, and he allegedly mentioned that his son attended a school where a teacher had recently been charged with possession of child pornography. Gillespie apparently declined any comments on Heisey's remarks since his office was in charge of the case.
However, within 24 hours Gillespie had penned a memo which claimed that Heisey had said he could understand "how one could be attracted to the beautiful body of an eight year old, but not to children in diapers." Gillespie emailed his memo to the Chief Julian Fantino who, without confirming with Gillespie what had actually been said and without talking to Heisey, sent the memo on to his colleague and supporter, Norm Gardner, then Chair of the Toronto Police Service Board. Gardner says he discussed the memo with two other board members, but both have said they do not believe he raised it with them or made them aware of the matter.
In early December, 2003, Heisey was appointed chair of the Police Services Board, signifying a new and progressive group of people with a majority on the Board. Also immediately Heisey said - as he had often said in the past - that the provincial government should establish an independent body to deal with complaints against the police.
On January 15, 2004 - 15 months after it had been written - Gillespie's memo mysteriously became public. That happened to be the day that Norm Gardner appeared at a hearing before the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services (OCCOPS) into allegations he received a handgun from a Toronto manufacturer, and free ammunition from the Toronto Police service.
Questioned about the matter, Heisey said that the comments attributed to him "have been taken completely out of context, if indeed I made them." Fantino said he was "disappointed that the memo had been made public." Gillespie refused comment and showed considerable hostility to reporters who called him.
There were several requests for Heisey to stand down as Chair while the matter was further investigated, but the Board agreed that he should stay on as chair during the investigation, expected to take a couple of weeks.
This string of events leads to a number of questions, none of which give one much confidence in policing structures:
If Detective Sgt. Gillespie thought Heisey had said something improper on September 22, 2002, why didn't he do more than send an email up the system?
If Chief Fantino thought the matter was of some substance in September 2002, why did he not talk to Heisey? If he thought it not important, why did he send it to Norm Gardner?
If Gardner thought the matter was important in September 2002, why did he not talk to Heisey?
Is this an instance of the police culture attacking and trying to discredit any progressive voice that might challenge the way policing is done in Toronto?
As several journalists have pointed out, there is often a great deal of dispute between witnesses about what people actually say in the course of a conversation. Often listeners hear what they want to hear, and not what the other is saying. The more distance in time from the actual conversation, the more likely it is that one misses the words that were used and the implications that were made.
One fears that this kind of attack on Heisey is the precursor to similar kinds of attacks on the other progressive voices on the Toronto Police Services Board as they attempt to exert reasonable governance and direction.
2. Central Field Command Drug Squad Controversy
For many years there have been allegations that members of the Toronto Police Drug Squad have intimidated those accused of drug dealing by stealing money from them and carrying out other illegal acts for their own personal gains.
In early 2002 Chief Fantino ordered an investigation into these allegations, headed up by the Superintendent of the RCMP, John Neily. In January 2004 Neily had a press conference with the Chief announcing the arrest of six officers in the Drug Squad on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, perjury, extortion, theft, and assault causing bodily harm. The charges of obstruction of justice included allegations of falsifying notes and internal police records, swearing false affidavits to obtain search warrants and giving false statements. Those charged are Staff Sergeant John Schertzer, Constables Steve Correia, Joseph Miched, Ray Pollard, Ned Maodus and Richard Benoit. Four officers were mentioned as unindicted co-conspirators: Detectives Jason Kondo and Jonathan Reid, and Constables Greg Forestall and Mike Turnbull.
Neily said that other cases involving discreditable conduct and neglect of duty conduct should be referred to the police staff for further review.
Chief Fantino added that allegations against these six officers were "isolated and confined."
It turned out that this was only part of the story. For the last two years the Globe and Mail and the CBC have been waging a fight in court to obtain the documents that were behind the investigation, documents which outline the evidence that the Toronto police and other investigators had uncovered. Lawyers for several police officers took the position this material should not be made public. The evidence in these documents was ordered to be made public by the Court of Appeal on January 19. It includes allegations that:
Someone who was thought to have testified against the suspect officers was pulled over on a Toronto highway and threatened at gun point;
A key witness was so frightened for his personal safety that he threatened self-mutilation if forced to testify against several of the officers;
An RCMP officer was threatened with physical harm by a Toronto officer and another was told his kneecaps would be broken;
Memo books of the suspect officers went unaccountably missing, but later were found in the search of an officer's home
One of the officers charged was led into a sting operation where he delivered several hundred thousand dollars to an undercover officer for laundering That same officer provided security for an operation transporting money and diamonds from a drug deal.
The documents released by the courts seem to suggest that there was criminal activity by 17 members of the drug unit alone; that there was evidence of extortion and beatings by police officers; and the payment of fees to officers by drug dealers to operate in certain parts of the city. It is clear from Neily's statements and evidence that there are many more than six officers involved in wrongful activity, even if there may be difficulty in proving the matters in court at a criminal standard of justice.
Neily argued that there was great concern for the welfare of informants and that witness relocation and protection programs should be put in place. He was quoted as saying the "level of threat attached to this is exceptionally high and of significant concern to us in the future."
Chief Fantino is to be commended for getting this investigation underway two years ago, but what a sorry state of affairs it shows the police to be in. This is more than a matter of a few bad apples. There is very strong evidence pointing to criminal activity within the police service that is widespread, and of collusion and cover-up. That a Staff Sergeant has been charged might indicate troubles at the highest levels of the force. Senior management has obviously been unable to contain and control this kind of problem.
One thinks back to the intimidation campaign that the Toronto Police Association tried to carry out a few years ago, selling stickers of support for the TPA that citizens would place on their automobiles, making it clear to officers who were the "good guys" and who were not. While the TPA finally agreed to stop this campaign - significantly the Police Board never took formal action to stop it - it looks as though that campaign was viewed as mainstream, fitting in with the way some officers think they should be acting on the public payroll.
3. Former Board Chair's hearing into discreditable conduct
As reported previously in these bulletins, Norm Gardner stepped aside as Chair of the Toronto Police Service board in July 2003, while awaiting a hearing by the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services into his receipt of a gun from a Toronto manufacturer in return for helping the manufacturer secure a display table at a police conference. That hearing began January 12, 2004. In the opening argument Gardner's lawyers said the Commission was biased, and although the Commission rejected that argument, it does signify that if the OCCOPS hearing goes against Gardner a case will in all likelihood be taken to the courts on the issue of bias.
There was little of surprise in the evidence presented at the hearing. Gardner argued that he had forgotten to pay for the gun until prompted, and that he thought he had received permission to accept free ammunition from police. In fact, he suggested that it was Chief Fantino himself who had provided that authority.
The OCCOPS decision must, by legislation, be handed down within 30 days, that is, by the middle of February. Since Alan Heisey has been appointed Chair of the Board, Gardner is no longer receiving $8,000 a month for being the non-performing Chair. His appointment by the Province runs for another 18 months. Whereas former provincial appointee Al Leach resigned at the end of 2003 after the new Liberal Government took office and Toronto City Council appointed reform voices on the Board, Gardner continues to occupy his position, although he is not permitted to be part of Board meetings because of the OCCOPS matter.
4. Chief's employment contract in contention
In the last week it has become public knowledge that almost a year ago secret negotiations began between a panel of the Toronto Police Service Board and Chief Julian Fantino on the extension of his contract as chief, due to expire in March 2005.
The negotiations never appeared to be finalized because of apparent glitches in October, just before the Toronto municipal election of November 10. Some have suggested that the negotiations stalled as Mr. Fantino hoped for the election of John Tory, only to find that David Miller was elected mayor.
The negotiations have apparently not resumed. Mayor Miller has suggested there should be public discussion before the decision is made about next steps, including whether any consideration would be given to extending Fantino's contract. It is clear that there are many questions to be answered about what Toronto needs in a police chief. This will be a question TPAC will address in coming weeks.
5. Another mentally disturbed person killed by Toronto police
Several years ago there was great debate in the city when the police indicated they would obtain taser guns (which would allow them to shoot an electric current at a person, temporarily disabling them but causing no permanent injury). Many argued that this was much like police administering an electric shock and a much less intrusive means should be used with the mentally-disturbed.
For whatever reason there's not much use of a taser by police now-a-days. On January 19, 2004 a woman in the Junction area found her next door neighbour banging on her door, obviously distraught and disturbed. She called the police, indicating the need for someone to calm him down. Police quickly appeared on the scene. The man shot a police officer in the arm, the police immediately returned fire, killing him instantly.
There is a long history in Toronto of the police treating the mentally-disturbed in a cavalier fashion. Most recently the city has gone though the trial of four officers charged in the death of Otto Vass, a distraught individual at the time of his death. (See Bulletin No. 6.) While the officers were released on charges of manslaughter, the inappropriateness of the police response in that case and in this more recent case is worrisome. Certainly, these are difficult situations, but we should expect police to be trained to take a more life-affirming response by police, as the Edmund Yu inquest recommended.
6. A decision on police endorsing political candidates
On January 22, the Toronto Police Service Board finally made a decision about political endorsements. (This item was before the Board several times in the past, as reported in previous Bulletins.) It's decision is hardly a surprise, although it has been attacked strongly by the Toronto Police Association which - using a very frightening metaphor - says the councilors are 'playing with a loaded gun' by trying to restrict the activities of the Association.
First, the Board has said it agrees with the legal opinions it had requested three years ago that "the endorsement, or opposition, of candidates by the Toronto Police Association is prohibited by the Police Services Act and the Regulations made thereunder", and it has requested staff to develop a draft policy for the Board's consideration. This means the clear wording of the regulation will now be board policy, making political endorsements an offence.
Second, to clarify two issues that the Police Association has raised, it has asked that the provincial Cabinet refer two questions to the Court of Appeal: are members of the Association's executive board of directors 'police officers?'; and does the regulation prohibiting police from endorsing candidates infringe the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
It's three years since the Board first asked for these legal opinions, and it's time this matter was finally decided - as it was - in conformity with these opinions.