A few hours before this year's Caribana kick-off last Thursday, July 29, the Toronto police services board is getting in the groove with its own particular kind of spectacle. Sad to say, the body has become a pageant in its own right, and today it sticks to the expected script: Councillor Case Ootes mumbles, Benson Lau gets indignant, Justice Hugh Locke treats everyone like they're a century younger than he is (which they may or may not be), Chief Julian Fantino is dismissive. Votes are three-to-three. Board reformers are less than subtle. People say the word "dysfunctional" a lot.
There are striking similarities between the two exhibitions - lots of spectators, lots of noise, lots of cops. No dancing at the board meeting, though, unless you count the grandstanding of a few city councillors.
Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and Frances Nunziata plant themselves conspicuously in the gallery, while Councillor Doug Holyday tags along. Perhaps they believe that sitting with the plebes will give an everyperson air to their impending predictable outbursts.
Mammoliti and Nunziata, pushing to have Fantino's contract renewed, wait until board business proper begins, then stand to demand that they be put at the top of the agenda. They feel the termination of the chief's contract was not handled democratically and requires redress.
That redress hasn't come from council, where the two were told they should bring the issue to the board. Board reformers don't agree - even with one another. Councillor Pam McConnell insists that the board cannot revisit the issue since they "have a timetable to live up to."
Chair Alan Heisey's position is more pragmatic: if the councillors are given the right to address the issue, the public will need the same right. "Warning of this came less than 24 hours ago," he adds. Councillor John Filion simply says, "The public cannot deal with a personnel matter."
By way of compromise, Mammoliti and Nunziata are granted permission to address an existing agenda item on how to conduct the search for a new chief. Nunziata says she's "disgusted" with the board; she and Mammoliti then storm out and wait for the press to dutifully if somewhat grudgingly join them.
"What about the rules of democracy?" asks Mammoliti, to more than one roll of the eyes. "What about the people of this city who've spoken loud and clear?"
Mammoliti's referring to the signatures he's collected in support of renewing Fantino's contract. Filibuster away, Giorgio.
The kamikaze councillors don't stick around to speak to the hiring of a consultant to guide the search for a new chief. But soon enough, provincial appointee Lau decides the meeting has been going unduly smoothly. He walks out to the foyer, where he tells reporters he doesn't feel that because we've let one chief go it's necessarily the time to look for another. "Knowing what I know from the in- camera meeting (where the chief's contract was terminated)," he says, "I have no moral ground to support hiring a new chief."
He claims that he does, however, have the moral ground to support letting the controversial chief stay on as a lame duck without a contract. You don't need as much moral ground for that.
Thankfully, by this point John Sewell is making his submission to the board on the issue. The former mayor thinks that before a consultant is retained, the city should open the process to the populace, citing the recent "Listening to Toronto" budget sessions as precedent.
"You'll have a better idea whom you're trying to attract," suggests Sewell. "A two-month delay" - as opposed to Lau's proposed indefinite delay - "would be worth it."
Councillor Filion voices tentative support. "(The board of health) recently went through finding a chief medical officer," he offers, "and consulted widely." But he queries Sewell's timeline, noting that the process took six months.
Councillor McConnell expresses qualified agreement. "There are people who have no idea of all the dimensions of things we'd be looking for," she warns, and proposes hiring a consultant to create a rough draft of search criteria that could be released to the public prior to consultations. She expresses interest in the process as potential civic education.
Lau, who has actually come back into the meeting, is not impressed. "In hiring a new chief, this board is happy to do public consultation," he points out, "but wanted none when choosing not to renew (Fantino's) contract."
While Mammoliti and Lau aren't flexing much democratic muscle, they aren't entirely wrong to point out that reformers on the board are increasingly selective about when they flex theirs.
The idea that the chief's tenure can't be hashed out in public because it's a personnel issue seems pretty weak to me. As matters stand now, the board deadlock is becoming a grudge match. The board, trying to keep the search for a new chief from turning into a circus, has allowed the police services to become a circus without a ringmaster.
All this gives the meeting's other major item, the first on the agenda - the ongoing review of the police complaints system - new relevance. A representative of the African Canadian Legal Clinic proposes reforms to the system that include opening up deliberations to public input, and clearer guidelines on thrid-party witness statements, which are currently banned by law.
As the final motion of the five-hour meeting - Heisey's attempt to start the process of hiring a consultant - is hamstrung by the usual three-to-three vote, the ACLC's proposals stick in my head. Perhaps we need a police board complaints system as well. At least for journalists.