On May 16, 2012, Toronto’s Chief Bill Blair met with journalists to comment on the Ontario Independent Police Review Director’s report, Policing the Right to Protest, released earlier that day. The report investigated complaints and made findings into the conduct of the Toronto police during the 2010 G20. (You can see earlier postings on this topic here and here.)
The Chief’s response, in my opinion, avoided responsibility, was at times evasive, at times unresponsive, and occasionally misleading. Over the next few days, I will look at some of these problematic statements. (One glaring problem a day, more or less)
Avoiding responsibility: the OIPRD report just expresses an “opinion.”
The OIPRD investigators painstakingly reviewed hundreds of hours worth of evidence (police officers’ notes, videos, photographs, interviews, and so on) before coming to the conclusion that during the G20, police officers did violate citizens’ individual and civil rights and liberties and also that excessive force was used on a number of occasions.
Despite the abundance of video footage (for example, the videos that show hundreds of innocent protestors and by-standers under siege by the police for several hours at Queen and Spadina), and personal accounts that confirm, with certainty, that people’s rights were violated, Chief Blair calls the report’s conclusion on this issue merely an “opinion.”
Chief Blair was asked by one journalist whether or not he accepts to rejects the report’s finding that people’s rights were trampled on by police officers (at 17:03 in the video, below). To this, the Chief responds,
“Well, I think that it certainly requires a hearing. And generally, I think overwhelmingly, the rights of our citizens were protected that weekend. There are individual instances where the OIPRD has said that some things, some individual conduct, may have been a violation of rights. I think that needs to be heard, in a hearing. Evidence, not opinion, but evidence needs to be brought forward. And it needs to be brought forward in a hearing according to the rule of law and due process.”
True enough that when the OIPRD refers a matter to the Chief, a hearing under the Police Services Act needs to be conducted before a finding can be made, under that Act, against a police officer. And yes, the OIPRD’s investigative conclusions are based on a “reasonable belief.” But to call the OIPRD’s finding that rights were violated during the G20 an “opinion,” and then to imply that, therefore, one cannot conclude that rights were violated on a large-scale, is a mark of denial, evasion, or of eschewing responsibility. The Chief’s refusal to admit as fact that citizens’ rights were violated, often at-large, and his declaration that the findings in the report merely express an “opinion,” confirm that he continues to deflect and avoid responsibility.
To many, Chief Blair’s reaction does not come at a surprise, but reflects a continuing sad state of affairs.
The Chief has said that he is committed to “learning lessons” for the future. Before he can learn anything, though, he must be willing to call things by their correct names. Until the Chief (and indeed, our political leaders) are willing to call police conduct during the G20 what it was: improper, excessive, shameful, frightening, and unlawful, we are not going to be learning any lessons for the future.
(next….There Is a Tribunal to deal with police complaints?)