A month after walking out of a police services board meeting on racial profiling, a coalition of 31 black organizations gathers in a small, stuffy hearing room of the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services on Grosvenor Monday, June 9, to have their voices heard. It's difficult to tell, however, whether any of the 12 commission members here today are actually listening or are just going through the motions. None of them utters a word throughout the entire hour-long presentation.
Not even some well-meaning but pointed criticisms from coalition lawyer Julian Falconer about the commission'sspotty record as a policing oversight body can get a rise out of them.
Commission members quickly slip out the back door of the room within seconds of the meeting's conclusion. And attempts to reach commission chair Murray Chitra afterward prove entirely fruitless. An assistant lets it be known that he won't be available for comment any time soon. "He's impossible to get hold of," she says.
***Representatives of the coalition have brought some weighty demands with them to the meeting, including that an official policy prohibiting racial profiling be established, as well as more thorough and effective anti-racism training for police officers. The coalition also wants the public complaints system, emasculated by the Tories in recent years, replaced by a civilian-run agency.
As if to drive their point home further, the coalition brings along graduate student Jason Burke, who was charged with drug trafficking during Caribana 2000, only to have the charges dropped two days later. When the complaints process failed him, he filed a civil suit against police alleging racial profiling.
Speaking softly and eloquently, Burke spells out what the cost of further inaction on racial profiling will mean. "If this board decides that it's not within their grasp to make that change, what scares me is that people out there in the community will continue to force change, and not necessarily in a politically correct manner."
The commission has sweeping powers. And coalition lawyer Falconer circulates photocopies of the pertinent passages from the Police Services Act to remind the commission of that.
"You can fix this. You can fix yourselves," says Falconer. But it's a sticky situation for OCCPS, which is used to working in obscurity but now finds itself thrust into a conflict between black groups and police.
To its critics, OCCPS has been too quick to do the bidding of its Tory masters. That the commission's provincially appointed new vice-chair is Sylvia Hudson does not bode well for meaningful changes in the future.
Hudson may have her defenders in the black community, but she has never been regarded as a champion of that community or as a vocal supporter of civilian oversight of police.
At the height of the racial profiling controversy back in February, it was Hudson who was appointed to head up a new storefront complaints office.
Four months later, she has yet to find a space for the proposed office. Her spokesperson, Hyacinthe Miller, assures me, though, that OCCPS will release an action plan after members review the coalition's materials.
"This is all part of the commission's mandate to become more visible and accessible," she says.
Police union lawyer Tim Danson, who sat at the back of the room during the coalition's presentation, is quick to throw cold water on the entire proceedings. He tells me in a phone interview later that police won't stand for much of what the coalition is asking for - at least not a civilian complaints system."What happened under the old system is (that) it became a very politically correct process," Danson says.
Outside the hearing, coalition members mill about. "This is where the rubber meets the road," says Falconer. "They've done well in giving the community an opportunity to speak; now it's a question of whether they'll act on it."
"If they don't," adds Zanana Akande, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, "we'll continue to hammer at more doors."
A few of those doors seem to lead inevitably to courtrooms.