It's not terribly common to see hundreds of uniformed police officers gathered in public if they're not preparing to arrest people. That may be why 141 new constables, plus an honour guard of what looks like half the force, is a surprising sight.
Holding officer graduation proceedings at City Hall - in public - for the first time means the wall between police and citizens is absent. While the grads are attended by droves of family and friends, there are a lot of passersby as well, curious and otherwise, who serve to remind that the most important thing is daily life.
The City Hall setting sends a subtle but clear message: this is civil, not military, service. The politicians who have come to address the rookies - the premier, the justice minister, the mayor, the chief - are just as much on display themselves.
"What a great day to be mayor of Toronto,' says David Miller to the rookies, "when for the first time the people of this city can witness the graduation of citizens into peace officers.'
Miller is eager to point out that the assemblage "represents the diversity of our city. Over 44 per cent are women and visible minorities.' I don't think they're "minorities' any more, at least not outside the force. And has he just found a nicer way of saying "still mostly white, still mostly men?' Ah, well, you can hardly blame him for some positive reinforcement.
Chief Bill Blair takes the dais next, with enough enthusiasm to power a taser. "Premier McGuinty, Minister Kwinter, Your Worship David Miller, members of the board, my fellow command officers, senior officers, members of the police force, new graduates, boys and girls.' Little girls always come last. Maybe someday a lucky few will graduate to boy.
"You've studied the law, you've learned to shoot straight, you've mastered our use-of-force options.' And all in five months! "You now embark on your most difficult task yet - you will become rookies.'
And you will remain so well into August, when the next graduates arrive as part of our elevated response to the looming crisis in all wards across this city. Did I say crisis? I meant election.
Graduates are soon called up singly to receive badges, and we're told a little about each. Whenever a graduate speaks a language in addition to English, we're told so. Are we supposed to be proud of them for speaking it, or of the force for hiring them?
This is the most interesting part of the proceedings. Far from the stereotype of the undereducated cop, these graduates have degrees in anthropology, English lit, political science, psychology, journalism and information technology. Notably, though, even many of those with honours degrees seem to have been working at grocery stores or garages.
Yet the air of festivity is off-putting. Doesn't a rising number of police officers mean an increase in the symptoms of an ill society? Shall we drink to the unabated poverty that keeps so many in the searchlight? A toast to our simple lack of creativity?
As the names continue to be called and the badges clutched, I imagine the speech I would give, in my official capacity as scruffy naysayer. "Remember," I would begin, "that people are still most likely to be harmed by things against which there are no laws, and that, far from being within your jurisdiction, those things - pollution, poverty, social injustice - are usually the ply and trade of those rich and powerful folks who are most likely to benefit from your protection.
"View your chosen role, then, as a double-edged sword, and approach the citizenry not as a mass to be kept in order, but as people, some of whom need help in getting their lives back on course. You are charged with protecting people, not from each other, but from the most acute symptoms of the sickness of alienation and inequality that has afflicted them.
"You are not the cure. In fact, like many medications, you can easily become part of the problem and contri-bute to new symptoms. You will know you are succeeding - and that success will never be yours alone - if the graduating classes that follow you grow ever smaller.
"You will know you are succeeding when people redirect their rage away from each other and turn it on the mechanisms of social unfairness. In short, you will know you have succeeded when you are no longer needed.
"For those of you who simply see this as your best bet for job security, we apologize that we couldn't find you a better job than dealing with the messy results of a social order that prevented us from finding you a better job.
"Some of you may have noticed there are spiritual leaders here. As you line up to receive your badges, please swear to them that if you ever lose the idealistic drive to make individual lives better, you will quit the force immediately - or apply for a promotion.'
I'm shaken from my reverie to realize that there actually is a priest present, here to pray for the troops - sorry, officers - and the continued wisdom of those who lead them.
As a singularly mournful snare drum signals the march out of the square, my mind wanders to the words of Lao Tzu: "Enter battle gravely, with sorrow and great compassion,' he wrote, "as if you were attending a funeral.'
Andrew Cash is a member of the Cash Brothers, whose latest album is Skydiggers/Cash Brothers.