Chief Julian Fantino was heard to tell the police services board last month, "This has come up over and over. It was brought up 20 years ago." He was dismissing concerns about police identification and racial profiling, but he could very well have been referring to any number of civilian oversight matters currently before the board. Take the special board meeting on June 16 where a series of deputations were made on a proposed overhaul of the public complaints system.
David Bayliss, a member of the Criminal Lawyers Association, cited figures showing that only 5 per cent of all complaints from 1995 to the present were acted upon.
"Lawyers who work with community clinics often advise clients that filing a complaint will be a waste of time," added Dyanoosh Youssefi of the Law Union of Ontario, "and could even open them up to potential retribution."
This concern was shared by Barry Rieder, a member of the United Church's Jane-Finch Community Ministry. "People have felt that when they bring things forth, there is a reprisal," he said.
Read that one again. Many speakers echoed it, and it bears some tough reflection. At the very least, there is a widespread perception that the system for public redress of alleged police abuses is useless, fostering exactly the culture of silence that breeds corruption. But of greater concern is the apparent freedom of officers not only to ignore complaints but to punish those who raise them.
One hopes the board can see a parallel between these allegations and the recent experience of board member John Filion. Along with chair Alan Heisey, Filion was the target of a smear campaign by unknown officers. At the May meeting of the board, Filion proposed an amendment to the provincial Police Services Act that would forbid members of the service from surveilling board members, outlaw the keeping of files on board members and stipulate that any criminal investigation of city politicians must be done by an outside police force.
Filion's amendment was motivated not only by his own experience, but by those shared with him by former police board members. He relates that "people have told me they believe they were being followed or their homes were being watched."
He said surveillance restrictions would be waived in the case of a criminal investigation, but Chief Fantino still objected. "Even before that decision (to start a criminal investigation) is made, sometimes there needs to be (another) investigation." Well, colour me terrified.
At this week's board meeting, Filion got a taste of what residents are treated to when they cross the police. Andrew Clarke, director of the Toronto Police Association, was livid. "The allegations you've made smear the reputations of every member of the force," he insisted. "They have been harpooned."
Clarke then demanded an apology. None was forthcoming, though Filion made an official clarification that he had "no reason to believe anyone [carrying out surveillance] was acting on instructions from the Toronto police service." So yet another battle with the bombastic police union loomed.
Clarke's clumsy, jingoistic attempt to paint Filion's motion as a slur on every officer's reputation was just a distraction. A more subtle misdirection occurred when the force finally reported to the board on racial diversity in its ranks.
A 15-minute presentation established that a special recruitment unit consisting of constables who are "ethno-racial" (no androids allowed) works on setting up recruitment tables at cultural events.
While recruitment drives are going on in non-white communities, there was no substantial discussion of why people aren't signing up or why many who do don't stay long. Board vice-chair Pam McConnell supplied one piece of the puzzle: of the 460 detectives on the force, only 25 are people of colour, and only four of those are women. The percentage of sergeants is even lower: 29 non-whites (five of whom are women). There are no female members of visible minorities holding the rank of detective sergeant.
McConnell suggested bringing in a consultant to report on systemic and cultural barriers to advancement within the force. Recent board appointee Justice Hugh Locke objected strenuously, while Case Ootes said dismissively, "We can't compromise on standards." Certainly, Ootes didn't mean that to promote more people of colour would require lower standards?
And while it's noble enough for the board to press the force on these issues, why not look at their own composition? At the previous week's deputations, local activist Angela Davis, asked that they do just that. "I only see white faces," she said of the board. Well, there is Benson Lau. "Police are human," Davis continued. "There is a subculture in the police, and they protect each other...."
She was cut off. Said McConnell, "This is a public forum, and your words are not protected." Lovely.
Davis gaped in frustration. "We should be able to say what we want. That's freedom of speech. We don't have that here?"
Heisey said yes. A few people in the gallery said no. "Can you wrap up?" asked McConnell.
"I didn't select this board. You talk of a civilian body," Davis said, and then gestured to the audience behind her. "Aren't we a civilian body?"
And so even this most progressive of boards still spins its wheels.