It's a vote that a lot of councillors would probably like to have back.
On July 7, 2010, just 10 days after the G20 summit brought chaos to Toronto's streets, city council, in a motion deemed urgent, voted unanimously to "commend and thank Chief Bill Blair and the Toronto Police Service... along with all other police services that participated in this joint venture, on a job well done."
In the wake of a damning report last week from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director that substantiates complaints that cops at the G20 trampled civil liberties and executed unlawful arrests, some councillors are rethinking their rush to praise police conduct.
"I guess some of us are a little embarrassed now," said Councillor Maria Augimeri, one of the 36 councillors who voted for the motion. "Obviously none of us knew what the review process [has since] revealed. If we had known, we wouldn't have voted the way we did. We voted the way we did based on the information available at the time."
In the direct aftermath of the summit, concern had already been raised about mass arrests and the "kettling" of hundreds of people at Queen and Spadina. But much of the discussion at City Hall focused on the violence a minority of protesters had perpetrated on the streets, and many, including then-mayor David Miller, argued the force had done a good job under difficult circumstances.
Several councillors interviewed last week however said fear of being labeled by media or council colleagues as anti-cop was an important factor in the unanimous vote.
It didn't take long for Councillor Shelley Carroll to regret her decision to back the motion. In the weeks and months that followed, she remembers seeing news reports about officers who had improperly removed their nametags during the summit, and others who were refusing to identify colleagues suspected of assaulting protesters. She worried the council vote had emboldened rogue policemen.
"The thought crossed my mind many times: that guy thinks I'm totally on his side," the councillor said in an interview Friday.
The vote held by the previous term of council two years ago also raises serious questions about current civilian oversight of the Toronto Police Service.
The civilian body that oversees the force is the Toronto Police Services Board, which is made up of three council members and four city and provincial appointees. As current board members, councillors Michael Thompson, Frances Nunziata, and Chin Lee, could play a potentially key role in how the police service responds to complaints related to the G20, and yet all three are already on record as saying that the police and the chief performed their duties well.
None of the three were on the board at the time of the council vote, and the three councillors who were then board members decided to absent themselves to avoid the appearance of a conflict. The board had already announced its intention to launch a civilian review.
Nevertheless, Councillor Adam Vaughan, one of the board member during the G20 summit, believes the motion should never have been considered because councillors' position on the police board requires all of council to be impartial. He hopes similar motions are tossed off the agenda in future.
"We have a role to play as politicians, as elected officials, in providing effective and comprehensive civilian oversight," says Vaughan. "And that means you're not a cheerleader or a critic of the police. You have and administrative position, a quasi-judicial position that requires you to act with a great deal more care."
Anna Willats of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition agrees that the fact that current board members have already endorsed police conduct at the summit sends a damaging message to the public.
"We would always worry that they have a propensity to support the police no matter what, and they have a propensity to speak that support before they've got all the facts," says Willats.
Following the relase of the OIPRD report, according to CBC News, on Friday Chief Bill Blair sought permission from the board to discipline 30 of his officers, a necessary step because the normal six-month window to charge the service members with misconduct had expired.
The board granted him permission, and Blair is expected to seek clearance to pursue further disciplinary charges against at least a dozen other officers.
Once it gives Blair the go-ahead to take action against officers, the board plays no further role in the process against service members under his command. Had the OIPRD recommended discipline against the chief or deputy chief for their role in the G20 however, the board would be responsible for meting out any required punishment, including firing or demoting Chief Blair.
The board will also be responsible for the recommendations of the civilian review of police conduct during the G20, which is due sometime next month.
Councillor Thompson, who serves as vice-chair of the board, says that his vote two years ago to commend Blair and the force won't affect how he carries out his duties.
"I don't think it puts me in a position that compromises anything," he says. "We're actually serious about addressing the issues."
Thompson concedes that the pro-police motion, which was introduced by Councillor Mark Grimes, likely wouldn't get the same support today that it did in 2010, but says he voted for it because he felt the police did a good job of minimizing property damage and injuries to citizens.
David Miller and as well as current mayor Rob Ford both voted in favour of the motion. A handful of councillors, including police board members Vaughan, Pam McConnell, and Frank Di Giorgio, absented themselves, resulting in a 36-0 vote on the 45-member council.
Praise for police:
Commendations, and concerns, from the council floor:
Who said what during July 7, 2010 debate on the G20 motion.
"I don't think there should be an inquiry or a review. None whatsoever... I think our police force is too nice. They sat there and watched their own police cars getting burned."
- Rob Ford (councillor for Etobicoke North at the time)
"I believe it to the bottom of my heart, our officers were in an impossible situation and did their absolutely level best. That's why I support the thank you."
- Mayor David Miller
"People that don't' like the police are never going to like the police... You know who's complaining? The drug dealers. Who cares? They're going to complain anyway."
- Councillor Frances Nunziata, current member of the police board, comparing G20 complainants to suspects recently arrested in a drug bust in her ward
"It is extraordinarily important that this body recognize that we represent people who claim they were detained and searched without due process. Our residents. We are not in a position today... to know whether or not due process was followed... It would be wrong of us to rush judgment or offer blanket judgment either congratulating or condemning any of the forces involved."
- Councillor Gord Perks, who absented himself from the vote
"Some people are taking a pass on this because they don't want to be part of supporting the police. Well they'll be noted too I hope, but I hope the rest of you will stand up and tell the chief what a great job they've done."
- Councillor Doug Holyday (now deputy mayor) on those who absented themselves from the vote
"Madam speaker, I support the police. In the actions that took place, in protecting the city during the G20. And I support the police in their daily activities of protecting our residents and our citizens. I know how hard they work."
- Councillor Michael Thompson (now vice-chair of the police board)
"I'd like to commend the outstanding work of CB, but we can do that after this review is complete, and we're completely satisfied that the TPS have acted appropriately in protecting the public and protecting the city."
- Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who put forward a motion to defer the vote until after a civilian review of police conduct had been completed. He later withdrew the motion when it became clear a majority of council wanted to thank the police immediately.