Unsettling as it may be, it's probably the province that will ultimately decide who takes the chief's chair when Julian Fantino is blessedly gone come March.
That's because between now and then, the Libs are destined to make two appointments to Toronto's police services board - one as soon as this month - that will make all the difference not only in determining who sits in the big office at 40 College but also about much else. But as they await the outcome of provincial deliberations, police reformers are increasingly disappointed at the flat-footedness of Ontario's new rulers. The first bad sign was the appointment as Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services of Monte Kwinter, a politician known more for his interest in business matters than in the social issues at the heart of policing.
As the months following the election of the Liberals stretch into a year, it appears that the Grits are determined to do as little as possible on the police file. Kwinter is thus the perfect minister. Aside from pro forma utterances such as condemnation of racial profiling following the release of a Human Rights Commission report late last year, the ministry has turned out to be a sleepy place.
The Grits have apparently decided that policing is one of those issues that polarize people, and therefore there's no political gain in going there. Thus, on many law enforcement matters for which the province bears ultimate responsibility - from officers' use of taser guns (the Libs won't take a stand) to policies ensuring civilian control or community-based policing - Queen's Park appears to be missing in action.
The Libs respond that this hands-off approach is a conscious attempt to ensure that municipalities make the decisions. "The government doesn't have an agenda when it comes to policing," says ministry spokesperson Bruce O'Neill. "Policing guidelines and regulations and laws are laid out province-wide by the Police Services Act."
But he adds that police services "don't have to follow every guideline to the letter. As long as they meet the criteria and the regulations within certain parameters, they're free to do anything they want. So if they don't want to buy tasers, they don't have to buy tasers. If they don't want to have community policing, they don't need to."
But those familiar with the workings of Queen's Park recall that the province has taken a more muscular approach to policing in the past. Lawyer Howard Morton - a former Crown attorney and head of the special investigations unit, which investigates shootings by police officers - describes the Libs' modus operandi on police as "let it fester away, and if anything bad happens, say it's a city responsibility."
During the premiership of NDPer Bob Rae, by contrast, the provincial government was a happening place for policy development, particularly in the area of race relations and policing. Of course, the moment required initiatives. For example, the Yonge Street riot of 1992, precipitated by the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles and a spate of police shootings of black men in Toronto, prodded Rae into instituting mandatory reporting of each instance in which an officer drew his gun in the presence of a civilian.
Indeed, a good start for the current government would be to bring back some of the good ideas that were trashed by the Tories, starting with the independent public complaints system originally brought in by the Bill Davis Tories and expanded by the David Peterson Liberals and the NDP.
Instead, the Liberals have decided to reinvent the wheel by appointing Justice Patrick LeSage to study the matter (an appointment made not by Kwinter but by Attorney General Michael Bryant). "We know what's needed," says a former police board member who describes the Liberals as "chickenshit" on cop issues. "It's not more study, but the system that was in place before the Harris Tories destroyed it."
Not all police reformers, though, are quite so critical. "I'm not prepared to write (the Liberals) off quite yet," says defence lawyer Julian Falconer, referring to attempts to revamp the complaints system. "So far, (they) have operated in the right direction in appointing a credible jurist who's experienced and balanced."
But the most pressing policing matter at the moment is the appointment of two new members to the seven-member police services board. Benson Lau's term ends September 26, and the disgraced Norm Gardner appears destined to hang on until December, even though he's been absent since being found to have improperly acquired police ammo for his personal use. (Chair Alan Heisey, who leaves this month, is a municipal appointee.)
The Liberals have already made one appointment. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to send Hugh Locke to the board. But the retired judge seems to have lost his judicial even-handedness along the way, becoming an unabashed Fantino sycophant. Even critics of the Libs don't blame them for that hire. Rather, they figure Locke has a severe case of judge-itis, an affliction marked by the need for control and an inability to work well with others.
More alarming, however, is the list of those who were and were not consulted about the Locke appointment. The Toronto Police Association was, but the mayor and police services board were not. "They were polite enough to call and ask for our input, and that was good," says association spokesperson George Tucker.
Meanwhile, Queen's Park spokespeople are being coy about who will be named to the board and when. Bruce O'Neill says provincial appointees to Toronto's and all police boards are not expected to represent the government's viewpoint but to ensure that citizens get good police service. "You don't want someone that everyone regards as the local idiot," he says. "You're looking for someone who can get along in a team environment and work toward consensus rather than always taking an adversarial position."
Perhaps the Liberals will have better luck on their second appointment.