1. Corruption Allegations in the Police Force
On April 19, just one day after the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services removed former chair Norm Gardner from his position on the Toronto Police Services Board for the remainder of his term for making off with police ammunition, charges of corruption rippling through the Toronto police force became public.
One set of charges stem from an alleged shake-down in the entertainment district involving four officers of 52 Division. Earlier in April the plainclothes unit responsible for the entertainment district was disbanded but the exact problems which led to that decision were unclear. Then, after the allegations had been public for two weeks, charges were laid in early May against four officers - William McCormack, Rick McIntosh, George Kouroudis and Jodie Watson. At that time, McIntosh was the President of the Toronto Police Association. He stepped down as president on April 19, but remained on the Board of Directors. The charges against William McCormack and McIntosh include influence peddling, accepting a benefit and breach of trust.
Later in the month another allegation of corruption arose, and charges were laid against three more officers - Rick Morris, Michael Thompson, and Mike McCormick - and Mike McCormack's wife, for their alleged involvement with Jeffrey Geller, owner of Exclusive Marketing Inc., who died of a drug overdose on March 29. The allegations are that after Mr. Geller lost his Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry license permitting him to sell and lease cars, the officers spoke up for Mr. Geller and helped his business to continue using a company controlled by Mike McCormack and his wife. Geller was known to be involved with organized crime. Mike McCormack is also a member of the TPA Board of Directors, and has refused to resign in spite of pressure from the remaining board members to do so.
Mike and William McCormack are both sons of the former Toronto Police Chief William McCormack.
In a May 4 letter to TPA members, the TPA Board of Directors had a number of things to say about McIntosh's request to remain as president. The letter states, in part, "A few further observations about Rick McIntosh's letter are in order. He claims that he was never directly advised that he was an officer under investigation. He had to learn that from the grapevine and the media. That is not true. On Thursday, April 15, 2004, the day Bill McCormack was suspended, Rick McIntosh was told by Internal Affairs that certain of his conversations were intercepted by a wire tap. In particular, two of his conversations with his now co-accused, Bill McCormack, were played to Bill McCormack at the time of his suspension. It is those conversations that underlie the current joint criminal charges against Rick McIntosh and Bill McCormack."
These charges come on the heels of the release of the Ferguson Report into previous allegations against the drug squad - Ferguson's report was completed and filed with the police chief in January 2003 but only released to the public and the Board in March 2004 - and in the midst of an investigation by the RCMP which has been ongoing for two years.
On May 20, McIntosh announced he had resigned from the Board of Directors.
Craig Bromell, who had retired as president of the TPA four months ago, was being approached to rejoin the Board.
Meanwhile, TPA spokesman Andy Clarke continued to take a tough line as though the world has not changed, even threatening to endorse candidates in the upcoming federal election, although it is unclear why anyone would want such an endorsement. TPA director Al Olsen wrote an editorial in the May 2004 issue of the TPA magazine "Tour of Duty", slamming those who think a better police complaints system is needed. It is as though the TPA is living in some never-never land and that if only enough muscle can be brought to the table then the police position will win out.
2. Public meeting in June: Recreation or Incarceration?
The Toronto Police Accountability Coalition is sponsoring a public meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 16, at the Scarborough Council Chambers in the Scarborough Town Centre. The meeting is an opportunity to focus on evidence about whether it is better for youth to spend public money on recreational and social programs, or on policing.
This issue came to a head during recent 2004 budget discussions at City Hall when City Council agreed to give the Toronto Police an increase of more than $40 million over last year's expenditure, whereas the increase to recreational programs for youth was less than $1 million. A number of people urged that the money going to the police would e better spent on recreation and social programs for youth. But Chief Julian Fantino took a strong position and almost all of the financial requests of the police were met by city council. Members of the Toronto Youth Cabinet pleaded that capital allocations for a new police shooting range would be better directed to a new recreation centre, but that argument was rejected.
This public meeting is a chance to review information, hear arguments, and engage in discussion about this important issue. It may also help create some sort of momentum over the next six moths for consideration of next year's city budget. Speakers will be announced when confirmed.
3. The Cost of Strip Searches
As reported in Bulletin No. 10, Chief Fantino has told the Board he wishes to renew his request to treat all those arrested by Toornto police as though they were in a correctional facility and therefore subject to mandatory strip searches. It was expected that the Chief would report on this for the May 29 meeting, but the board has now scheduled the matter for July 29. TPAC intends to be at that meeting with the brief that it outlined in Bulletin No. 10, as found on the website at www.tpac.ca
TPAC has taken the position that strip searches conducted as a normal police practice are contrary to the Supreme Court of Canada decision, and are in the nature of intimidation. Harvey Simmons, a member of the TPAC Steering Committee, suggests another strong argument against them - their cost. He has prepared the following report after perusing strip search issues on the internet:
Evidence here in North America and elsewhere indicates that strip searches give rise to numerous complaints, lawsuits and, in the case of the U.S. at least, enormous damage awards.
Many complaints about abuse of strip search procedures come from women.
The 4 September 2003 San Francisco Chronicle reports, for example, that, "Arrested on suspicion of public intoxication, Deborah Flick, a student teacher, says she was stripped and left naked for hours on the cement floor of a cold cell at the San Francisco County Jail last March. Arrested during a peace rally, Mary Bull, a San Francisco activist, says she was forcibly strip-searched and left naked in a bone-chilling cell at the same jail in November."
Searching any database will turn up numerous complaints like these levelled against police departments all across North America, Australia and New Zealand .
And, in the U.S. , at least, lawsuits filed against police departments often result in taxpayers forking over enormous sums of money to the victims.
On 10 December 2000, for example, the Boston Globe reported, "Last March more than 7,000 people searched illegally in Kentucky shared a $11.5 million settlement. In November 1999, a federal judge in New Hampshire approved a $3 million settlement of a case brought by prisoners in three counties. . . . In a case decided last year, a woman strip-searched in New York City after her arrest in a domestic dispute was awarded $19,600 in compensatory and $5 million in punitive damages." On 11 January 2001 the New York Daily News reported that the city "agreed to pay between $20 million and $50 million, including lawyer fees, depending upon how many people file claims" for illegal strip searches.
Damage awards in Canada are much less than in the U.S. Nonetheless, The Toronto Star reported on 8 November 2003 that a Kingston mother was awarded $54,000 after the Toronto police settled a strip-search lawsuit.
4. Chief Fantino's comments on Sex Offenders
A day after the remains of young Holly Jones were discovered one year ago, residents of Toronto were shocked to learn that, according to Chief Julian Fantino, 200 known sex offenders lived within a three kilometer radius of her home. Those numbers caused very great concern in the community and the community was sent into a kind of social shock. Following up on this announcement, the Chief began to ask men in the community for DNA samples.
But it turns out that the figures were not set in a context that gave them appropriate meaning. An article in the Globe and Mail on Saturday, May 8, 2004 by George Emerson, a resident of Holly Jones' neighbourhood, challenges the chief's action.
Emerson traced the Chief's statement to find the source for the figures, which turned out to be Detective Sergeant Elizabeth Byrnes in the sex crimes unit. Byrnes said the figure of 200 included a wide range of people who had committed offenses related to sex, but most were offences against adults, not children. It also included people who at one time might have lived in the area but might not now. When pressed, as to how many might be considered child predators, she said, "Maybe four or five. Maybe four. Maybe."
Byrnes also noted the arbitrariness of the three mile radius, and the fact that this part of the city does not have a higher ratio of sex offenders in the registry than other communities.
Emerson's article ends: "Chief Fantino held his news conference to press for the creation of a national registry of sex offenders. Databases and statistical analysis can be useful tools in crime solving. But they can also be easily abused and distorted to advance an agenda, however well intentioned. In the end, in addition to a cruel death, that is what is really chilling about the Holly Jones death."
One is also reminded of the Chief's criticism of the Toronto Star's articles on racial profiling in October 2002. He called the Star's conclusions "junk science" although he has not been able to advance any alternative explanation for those conclusions. It is unfortunate he did not lead the way with "good science" in this instance. The Chief has at his ready a Communications staff of 17 people, but it seems they were not used to ensure that accurate communication was achieved.
One might also be critical of the media's role. Is it too much for the media to question the chief as to the sources and accuracy of his pronouncements?