In one emotion-charged instant, the city's most prestigious black organizations walked out of the police services board meeting Monday night, April 28, declaring what most policing reformers have known for a long time - that this body is unfit to represent multi-ethnic Toronto. The dramatic leave-taking, the latest skirmish in an ongoing highly publicized battle between black groups and police over racial profiling, represents a serious blow to the civilian oversight board's credibility.
Watching it all unfold in the second-floor auditorium at police headquarters, one couldn't help wondering if the walkout wasn't partly an attempt by black groups to give the cops a taste of their own medicine. Who could blame them?
After all, it was in this very room back in February that the cops pulled an ambush for the cameras, unleashing a report by U of T sociologist Ed Harvey that trashed as "junk science" the Toronto Star probe that sparked the racial profiling controversy.
All of this could all have been avoided if not for the pathetically childish behaviour of the board, police brass and their defenders.***
A coalition of black groups, including the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, the Jamaican Canadian Association and African Canadian Legal Clinic, have been invited here tonight to voice their objections to Harvey's report.It's supposed to be their night to talk back. But this "make good" meeting is destined to blow up before it even gets started when the board insists speakers limit their presentations to five minutes. The coalition has requested 90 minutes.It doesn't take long for the sniping that's been taking place in the press recently to erupt in the boardroom.
Zanana Akande, president of the Urban Alliance, scolds the board. "What is the harm in considering another point of view?" she presses, staring down the table of squirming board members. When it becomes clear that the board won't budge on its five-minute limit, Akande berates board chair Norm Gardner for "scoffing" at a recent Ontario Court of Appeal ruling citing evidence of racial profiling in the impaired driving case of former Toronto Raptor Dee Brown.
An audible groan rises from the gathering as a clearly frustrated and defensive Gardner stands by his earlier statements to the press - namely, that the cops did nothing wrong.It's at this point that coalition lawyer Julian Falconer, seated next to Akande, leans into the nearby microphone. "The reason we are here today is precisely because of the kind of defence of police you've just heard. There is a lack of objectivity coming from this board." With that, the coalition members in the auditorium clear out, a small throng of reporters in tow. Out the door with them seems to go any goodwill that might have been left between the two sides."What you have in there is a police service and board that have their heads stuck in the sand," Akande tells the scrum gathered outside. The coalition is going elsewhere, to the provincial monitoring body, the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services (OCCPS).
Nothing that's said back in the boardroom after they leave gives hope of this board establishing any connection with the black community.
Julian Fantino, declaring "the mischief-makers" out of the way, feigns amazement. "Why won't they sit down with us?"Alan Gold, the legal eagle hired along with Harvey a couple of months ago to defend the force against racial profiling charges, is called to the mike to blast away. By the time he's done, we've been led to believe that the possibility that systemic bigotry of any kind exists on any police force in North America is zero.
"It was most disappointing,' Gold says, that the black organizations failed to debate "the evidence, science or facts of the issue."
If the coalition's expert, U of T criminologist Scott Wortley, had been given an opportunity to speak at the meeting, the board would have heard what Wortley told me in an interview later: that Harvey's findings are "extremely poor academically" and "would never be published in any journal."
But let's forget that for the moment. It's police union lawyer Tim Danson's turn to speak. "My clients wonder if they should get judges to go out on patrol with them," says Danson.
"How did this issue of racial profiling get before the courts without any notice to the police?" Danson wants to know. He's suggesting that police were deliberately kept in the dark about black groups' intervenor status in the Brown case.
It's left to board member and former Tory cabinet minister Al Leach to raise the lone objection - a fact that says something about how far to the right this board has moved. He suggests that the coalition's spokespeople should have been given more than five minutes each to make their case. The silence is deafening. With time to fill, the board asks if any of the remaining audience members have anything to say. Only one woman walks up to the podium. Angela Wilson spends her five minutes pleading with the board to "start listening" to black Canadians, until Gardner asks her to wrap up.
After the meeting, Gardner approaches Wilson to reassure her that the board is indeed listening. "I know where you are coming from," he tells her. "I have a sister-in-law from Jamaica."