TPAC
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
 

Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 38, November 29, 2007.



November 29 2007

In this issue:
1. Taser problems
2. Missing the taser alternative, again
3. 2008 police budget
4. The police chief writes his story
5. Intersection watch



Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 38, November 29, 2007.

This Bulletin is published almost 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
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In this issue:
1. Taser problems
2. Missing the taser alternative, again
3. 2008 police budget
4. The police chief writes his story
5. Intersection watch
6. Subscribe to the Bulletin

1. Taser problems

Since the last Bulletin, four people have died in Canada after being tasered: two in British Columbia; one in Montreal; and on in Nova Scotia. It was the death of Robert Dziekanski in the Vancouver International Airport on October 14 that has received the most attention. He had arrived at the airport after a flight from Poland, and had wandered around the airport for ten hours, lost. Airport officials apparently made no attempt to find someone who could speak Polish and communicate with him. He became distraught, rearranged some furniture, but apparently did nothing of any great violence. The last ten minutes of his life was captured on videotape (which has been widely available), showing him somewhat confused but not dangerous to other travelers who attempted communicate with him and calm him, when four Mounties entered and without further ado  he wasnt objecting to them, they were not asking him any questions - simply unleashed the taser on him. As he fell to the floor screaming in pain, he was tasered again and was pronounced dead shortly after two of the RCMP officers kneeled on his neck and other parts of his body.
What has happened since is astonishing, and is best summarized in the timeline by lawyers Don Rosenbloom and Jim Aldridge in an op-ed piece in the Vancouver Sun published on November 27:
- As of November 27, no charges have been laid in respect of Dziekanski's violent death at the hands of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police despite the fact that it has now been witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people.
- The RCMP initially refuses to release the video recording of the incident to its owner and ultimately does so only after he initiates legal action to get it back.
- The RCMP's early pronouncements to the media following the incident in which it described what happened are shown by the video recording to be inaccurate in several important aspects.
- RCMP Commissioner William Elliott remains silent for more than a month, and on Nov. 17 does no more than issue a written press release. No in-person press conference, no opportunity for questions from the media. The commissioner remains incommunicado.
- The RCMP refuses to even provide the names of the officers who confronted Dziekanski.
- Astonishingly, the RCMP allows the officers to remain "on duty" for more than a month, and after public outcry reassigns them to "other duties," with pay.
- For six weeks the Canadian Border Services Agency refuses to say anything about its employees' involvement, even though Dziekanski was under its watch for more than 10 hours.
- During the same period of time the federal government fails to release any information to the public concerning what steps have been taken to demand public answers from Canadian Border Services officials.
- The Vancouver Airport Authority provides no satisfactory explanation for why airport staff were so unresponsive to Dziekanski's mother's inquiries and pleas for assistance on the day her son died.
- The provincial government remains silent on the incident for more than a month, and announces the establishment of an independent public inquiry only after it becomes clear that there will be a political price to pay for continued inaction.
- B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal, in a Nov. 19 interview, states that "the authorities" have not been forthcoming with information about the incident. In this remarkable statement, Oppal seems not to appreciate that he and his colleague, Solicitor-General John Les, are the authorities responsible for administration of justice and policing in British Columbia.
- There has been no explanation for any of these facts. The overarching question remains: Why have our institutions and governments responded so slowly and inadequately to the horrors of Dziekanski's death?
Reporters with Canadian Press dug into the RCMPs use of tasers, and have found that in the last five years, 79 per cent of taser use was to seek compliance from the victim, when there was no record that the victim was proving violent or difficult to arrest. Since August, RCMP officers have been permitted multiple firings to create a number of jolts (as with Mr. Dziekanski.) The RCMP also uses tasers with some frequency in domestic disputes.

Nova Scotia, where another death occurred, has curtailed taser use pending further study. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police announced that starting in January it would study tasers, with the report finished in 2009.

For other police forces, it is business as usual. No other police force has announced a review or a caution about taser use by officers. Almost as quickly as the disturbing video of events in the Vancouver airport was made available, Toronto Chief Bill Blair announced that he still wants tasers for all front line officers.

One would think that policing authorities would at least suggest that taser should be used with considerable caution, and with restraint, but that has not happened. TPACs position, that tasers should only be available to the well trained members of the Emergency Task Force, is not one that policing authorities have any interest in. One wonders what will be necessary before the taser is recognized as a device of lethal force which should be subject to strict controls, much like a gun.

2. Missing the taser alternative, again.

The best approach to people in crisis is using a team a plain clothed officer and a mental health nurse. In Toronto this is known as the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, and it operates from 1 pm to 11 pm in two downtown divisions and two west end divisions. As reported in previous Bulletins, particularly Nos. 27, 29, and 35, the team is very effective.

The Chief reported on the teams at the November meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, noting that the teams involve no extra cost to the police, and they save considerable time for the police given the skills of the team in calming people and getting them quickly processed into hospitals.

But there are two things standing in the way of making this service available 24/7, across the whole city. One is that not all hospitals want to participate for reasons that are not clear (perhaps costs they would have to bear?) The chiefs report implies that the police have not been approached by them, although theres no hint that the police will be taking the initiative to call the hospitals. The other blockage is that the police force really want tasers instead, and the chief wants to spend $8.6 million to get them. The police services board seems uninterested in taking leadership on this less expensive, safer alternative.

And just to confirm the problem, on November 29, Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board wrote an opinion piece for the Toronto Star, saying that he was concerned about taser use, even implying that taser use is supported by people from the mental health community. (In fact most psychiatric survivors are very strongly opposed to the use of tasers.) He never mentions the teams as the reasonable alternative. Why the disconnect?

3. 2008 police budget

The Toronto police operating budget request for 2008 has been released, and it calls for a 2 per cent increase ($16 million) over the 2007 net budget of $794 million. Except that the Board also will be asking for the money to provide the pay increase for 2008 now being negotiated with the Toronto Police Association.
In all likelihood, the settlement will be a pay increase of at least 3.5 per cent for the coming year, so that the real increase in police expenditure will be more like 5.5 per cent, or $40 million.

The Board had what it billed as a budget consultation in early November. In concept, the meeting was a good idea, but it would have been much improved if a full budget had been available rather than the 20 page summary packed full of generalities, and if there had been much wider publicity given to the meeting.

Only a handful of people attended the consultation. TPAC argued that if the Police Services Board was really interested in preventing youth crime, money would be better spent on social, recreational, and educational programs than on the police. (Former chief justice Roy McMurtry and former speaker of the legislature Alvin Curling have been appointed by Premier Dalton McGuinty to look into youth crime, and they both say the same thing. McMurtry was quoted on November 24 as saying The youth criminal justice system has but a marginal influence on the causes of crime in the community.)

TPAC urged the Board to not hire 240 new officers in 2008, but instead put some of the money earmarked for that purpose into social and recreation programs for kids, since the city, which is almost bankrupt, could not even afford to open ice rinks before the end of the year. (Mastercard stepped in with the $140,000 needed.) The Board thanked us for our presentation and apparently did not take our advice.

4. The police chief writes his story

`Duty: The Life of a Cop, written by Julian Fantino with Jerry Amernic, has just been published by Key Porter in Toronto. It is the authorized version of Fantinos life as a cop, with stories of his most memorable cases, and jabs at the people he had run-ins with. Since Fantino has always been voluble, there are no great revelations or insights about his involvement or how police actually work. His recommendations are as you would expect  Toronto needs a lot more police, and police need more powers.

5. Intersection watch

One thought that police surveillance cameras being installed (with a $2 million budget this year) were focused on high traffic areas where police could have a video tape in case something went awry. That was the justification for putting cameras at Dundas Square and in the entertainment district.

But there is obviously another unspoken agenda, since a camera recently was installed at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne. What happens there of great interest? The homeless attending programs at All Saints Church on the south east corner of the street?

Gaetan Heroux of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty asks, What will be seen on these new cameras? People getting turned away from full shelters, people living in poverty, people who are hungry. Will these cameras stop shelters closing? Will they feed people?

Maybe the cameras are meant to reassure those moving into the area.

6. Subscribe to the Bulletin

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Please circulate this Bulletin to friends and colleagues who might share an interest in policing. We appreciate your comments or suggestions for stories which should be sent to j.sewell@on.aibn.com.
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