In the pop psychology of grief, there are five stages. Acceptance is the last. In coming to terms with a police board determined to fulfill its mandate, the police force seems to be stuck in stage one - anger. This year's police budget has been submitted. Tasers have been short-circuited. A book of laws known as the Police Services Act has recently been uncovered. But police reps still refuse to go quietly into that good night.
Toronto Police Association president Dave Wilson is raging against the dying of the rights of the officers he represents.
The row concerns a new policy tabled by Toronto police services board chair Pam McConnell to settle the long-standing debate on political campaigning by police officers. It reiterates what various lawyers, including city solicitor and board legal adviser Albert Cohen, have said in the past: officers must refrain from political campaigning during elections.
Wilson was there to toss down the gauntlet, stating in a deputation that the police union recognized neither the validity of the policy nor its jurisdiction over them. "I don't think there is any other police body that would not take a similar stand for their constitutional right to freedom of speech," he stated. "We are not accountable to the board. We are an entirely separate corporate entity."
McConnell would not be trumped on constitutional pronouncements. "One of the most fundamental tenets of democracy," she replied calmly, "is the separation of powers. This not a muzzling but a protection of our democracy." The discussion ended with the councillor indicating that the board was prepared to go to the courts for arbitration if the two sides can't "agree to disagree."
In summing up the spirit of the policy, Cohen provided a brief moment of chilling clarity. "The chief of police is getting direction to enforce the law."
"We'll follow the law, but not the policy," Wilson told reporters outside. "Our position is that the policy doesn't stand up to the law."
It's a strange position, considering that the bulk of the policy quotes verbatim from Police Services Act regulation 554/9, which prohibits officers from expressing, as officers, "views supporting or opposing a candidate... or a political party that has nominated a candidate... or a position taken by a candidate in the election."
The union argues that union reps are not police officers, since they've taken a leave of duty to serve on the executive. In the absence of regulations stipulating that the prohibition applies to TPA brass, the board is following what it says is the spirit of the law.
It's hard to believe that Dave Wilson, president of the Toronto Police Association, would endorse candidates as an individual and not as TPA president (a title that contains the word "police").
Another stumbling block is the nebulous relationship between the union and the board. It's not common for unions to be accountable to the bosses of those they represent, but, then, the TPA is not like most unions.
Chief Julian Fantino also noted, seemingly for the board's benefit, that the policy does not speak to organizations, "civilian members of the police force" or third parties (lawyers, law firms or communications firms hired by the force or its association).
While it remains to be seen if union officials will play six-degrees-of-separation next election, similar reasoning was employed by the meeting's next deputant, Ontario's deputy chief coroner, James Cairns. The doctor had been invited by the force to speak to the issue of tasers.
In the course of a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation (cut to 15 minutes at the board's request), he warned of the danger of people experiencing "excited delirium," a state brought on by cocaine or severe emotional disturbances.
"They have unbelievable physical strength and are impervious to pain," he stated ominously. It may sound like a job for Superman, but Cairns believes tasers will suffice.
He also refuted evidence indicating that numerous Ontarians have died from taser shocks. "They were all on cocaine. They were all tasered. They died, but not because of the taser," he insisted. Police all over the continent have had a remarkable run of shocking people who were about to die of overdoses anyway.
"Most of these individuals," he asserted, "without a taser, die on the side of the road." Seeing alternate futures: a neat It's A Wonderful Life kind of trick. How seasonal. Can all coroners do that?
Cairns says tasers are the best way to get excitedly delirious people to a hospital. True or not, what we have here is serious message drift.
Cairns wrapped up his presentation with slides that stated in a gargantuan typeface "Tasers are definitely less lethal than guns!" Due to time constraints, he could not show the follow-up slides, "There are certainly more bugs than people!" and "I am assuredly larger than a bread box!"
Fantino, with cheerleading by Case Ootes, pushed to have the deadline for the medical officer's taser report moved up to January. This was ostensibly because of tasers' life-saving ability, but the battle-worn chief may have been thinking of his legacy.
"I'll undertake to do our report ASAP," Fantino said. If he's got some time on his hands, why doesn't he see to some overdue reports the board has actually been asking for? Case in point: the cruiser camera pilot project, which was due at that meeting.
The chief, reminded that tasers aren't in the budget, said "contingency funds" could be found. Again, if he has some money lying around, there are those mandated reforms he "couldn't afford."
Nonetheless, he's making better progress than the union. Denial is stage two.