The civilian board that oversees both the country's largest police force and some of the city's most contentious issues has come up with a significant contribution to the movement for police accountability.
At its special meeting on the evening of September 2, the Toronto police services board almost unanimously (TPSB-speak for unanimously) passed a resolution to submit a body of recommendations to Justice Patrick LeSage, who is currently carrying out a review of the way public complaints against police are handled.
The recommendations, gleaned from various Toronto residents' deputations, include expansion of the right to third-party complaints and the recreation of a police complaints body independent from the constabulary.
Official condemnation of a system that has police investigating themselves has been a good seven years in coming but is as essential as ever, given recent scandals. Board chair Alan Heisey, who leaves the board he has called "dysfunctional" in a month, seemed to revel in the breakthrough.
Referring to the proposal as "one of the most progressive in the world," Heisey said he believes it will streamline the complaints process by ensuring adequate civilian and legal expertise is centralized in one place. The envisioned body would have two wings, each independent of the other: investigative and adjudicative.
The former would include police representatives - from the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, the province's police unions and the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards - but they could make up "no more than one-third of a body whose membership is no less than nine."
Adjudication, if the recommendations carry, would be performed by one person with a legal background or by a group of three including one person with a police background.
No one could sit on the complaints body if he or she works for a police force or had ever worked for the force being investigated.
The TPSB also recommends eliminating the right to bring complaints against the police to the Human Rights Commission or civil courts. This proposal worries the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, whose Stephen McCammon gave a brief deputation. He indicated that his group may have "Charter concerns" with the intended process but is currently in discussion with board members.
"It's not a problem," maintained Heisey, "if you have the right adjudicators." To the significant swath of the population already pessimistic about democratic control of the police, that's a big "if."
McCammon also suggested that the TPSB use its clout to push for a body that monitors the collection and dissemination of police intelligence, similar to the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the overseer of federal spy body CSIS.
"These activities are not easily caught by a complaints system," he said, also pointing out that intelligence-gathering has taken on grave significance in the context of new powers given to law enforcement post-9/11. The creation of a monitoring body was a suggestion beyond the scope of the meeting, though it may yet return to the board's table. It's unknown whether the current board will be there to discuss it.
Equally unknown is whether a visibly relieved Heisey was glad to have achieved something of a legacy, pleasantly surprised to be going home early or simply thankful that Benson Lau chose not to show up.