Category Archives: G20 Posts

My posts on G20-related issues

Will Somebody Hold the Police Accountable?

After a lengthy investigation, the Ontario Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), Ontario’s civilian body responsible for handling complaints against the police, has concluded that police officers unlawfully jumped on, kicked, beat, shoved, threatened, mocked, and broke the nose of Adam Nobody while apparently affecting an arrest during the 2010 G8/G20 events in Toronto.  In a report released on Friday, January 20th, the OIPRD asserts that the use of such force was excessive and discreditable conduct, and recommends that the officers involved face disciplinary hearings.[i]

But the OIPRD’s report and recommendation come more than six months after the organization retained the file, which means that the officers involved will not automatically face a disciplinary hearing—the Toronto Police Services Board, the civilian oversight body for the Toronto Police, must effectively approve that such a hearing be held.

And what is the response of the police union to the recommendation that the officers who beat a handcuffed and sometimes unconscious Nobody face disciplinary hearings?  “We stand behind them,” said Toronto Police Union President Mike McCormack.[ii]  He has urged the Police Services Board not to hold disciplinary hearings against the officers, citing the 6 month delay.

It is no surprise that officers take advantage of every tool provided by the law.  But given that it is the police’s job to ensure that people who commit unlawful acts actually face the consequences of their actions and are held accountable under the law,  we are justified in asking, “Why is it that when the police commit unlawful acts, the union demands that we let it go?”  We might be excused for reacting indignantly to the union’s stance—a stance which seeks to put police officers above the law.

And what can we expect from the Police Services Board?  It’s the Board that now has the power to decide whether a notice of hearing can be served on the officers in question.  In effect, without the Board’s approval, there will be no hearing. The Police Services Act states that, in order to grant its approval, the Board must be of the opinion that “under the circumstances,” it was reasonable to delay serving the notice of hearing. [iii]

Surely the circumstances do exist here.  The case is one that involves important public policy issues dealing with the public’s right to protest, policing such protests, police tactics, and police officers’ beliefs in how citizens who, in their opinion, have broken the law, can be treated.

Furthermore, the volume of evidence that the OIPRD investigators had to sift through was high- significantly more than evidence from the run-of-the mill complaints that make their way to the OIPRD.  The OIPRD interviewed the complainant, interviewed or read reports from 5 other civilian witnesses, 12 police officer witnesses, and the 8 respondent police officers.  It reviewed audio and video evidence, four “volumes” of information from the Special Investigations Unit, the notebook entries of the police officers, and numerous other pieces of evidence.  This voluminous amount of evidence surely justifies a longer investigation period.

Finally, as the report makes no reference to the topic, we do not know if some of the “delay” during the investigation resulted from the slow or reluctant co-operation of the police witnesses, themselves.

When the legislature set out the limitation period it was likely contemplating the more common and straight-forward cases of complaints against one or two police officers.  It is unlikely that the legislature intended a 6-month limitation to apply to cases where many police officers, under an atmosphere of confusion and “mayhem,” as some witnesses described, were the subject of complaints.

In essence, the limitation period ensures that investigations are conducted efficiently and do not drag on indefinitely.  There is no blanket rule preventing investigations from continuing beyond the 6-month period. Under the circumstances, the OIPRD’s report has been produced in a timely manner.  But union President Mike McCormack wants the TPSB to rule otherwise.

McCormack’s position is offensive.  It demands that police officers who have engaged in illegal (and arguably, criminal) acts not be held professionally accountable for their conduct.  It perpetuates the negative and justified public perception that police officers protect one another no matter how egregious the acts of their members may have been.  The union’s position undermines the credibility of the police and the public’s trust and confidence in the police force.  In the end, though, the law allows McCormack to voice his opinion, but the same law grants the Police Services Board the power to approve that the hearings be held.

So what should we do?  How should citizens who want to ensure that the police conduct their job honourably and without resorting to unnecessary violence react?  Can we do anything to prevent the further erosion of the public’s confidence in the police?  Can we ensure that the Police Services Board grants its approval for the hearings?

Yes.  In this case, there is tangible, simple and effective action that we can all take.  We must let the T.P.S.B. and, in particular the three Toronto City Councillors who serve on the T.P.S.B., know that the officers who abused their power in their dealings with Mr. Nobody must be held accountable.[iv]  At the very least, they should face a disciplinary hearing.  Write to the Board and to the City Councillors and ask that they use their discretion to hold the police officers accountable for their actions, and not to protect officers who grossly abuse their powers.   And then, if and when the T.P.S.B. does approve that the hearings be held, follow up to ensure that the disciplinary hearings lead to meaningful consequences.

Demand that our law enforcement agents abide by the laws that they enforce.


[i] Currently, the report is available through the CBC at the following link: http://www.cbc.ca/news/pdf/OIPRDInvestigative-Nobody01132012.pdf

[ii] Adrian Morrow and Tu Thanh Ha, Watchdog accuses officers of excessive force at G20, The Globe and Mail, Saturday, January 21, 2012 at A15.

[iii] Police Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, C.P.15, s.83(17)

[iv] The three Toronto City Councillors who serve on the TPSB are Councillor Mike Thompson, who is also the Vice-Chair of the TPSB (his e-mail address is:  councillor_thompson@toronto.ca), Councillor Chin Lee (councillor_lee@toronto.ca), and Counciller Frances Nunziata (councillor_nunziata@toronto.ca).  For contact information for other City Councillors, go to: http://app.toronto.ca/im/council/councillors.jsp.

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What the Demonstrations in Egypt Teach Canadians about Democracy

No, we cannot foretell the fates of Egyptian, Tunisian, Iranian, and Yemenite people and their governments.   But we do know that the mass demonstrations in these countries mark a monumental shift in the histories of their nations.  In my mind, there is little doubt that, ultimately, things will get better- even if they initially get worse.

This is so because when people peacefully band together to achieve positive change, that change will eventually arrive.  The power of the collective, united human spirit to guide its destiny toward greater equality, democracy, and justice can be temporarily impeded, but it cannot be forever beaten.

But what do demonstrations in oppressive regimes where public gatherings are usually met with the fatal force of the military or police have to do with us in Canada?  Plenty.  These events teach the skeptics among us two things:  first, protests do change the course of history;   second, we must resolutely defend our right to protest peacefully.

Recall just a few months ago when critics derided Toronto’s G20 protestors for trying to effect change through demonstrations.  “Protests achieve nothing,” they jeered.  “If you go out and protest, then you’ve got to accept the risk that the police may beat you or arrest you, so quit complaining.”  These detractors had no sympathy for the cause or the fate of the protestors.

Even once image after image, account after account, revealed shocking police abuse of power during the G20, these critics seemed to regard the incidents as excusable exceptions.   The entire country should have been on the verge of revolt, so to speak, at least to denounce the actions of the police and the complacency of our government.  Yet none of that happened. The apathetic sentiment continued, “Why bother protesting?” “Protests may be a necessary ‘evil’ in dictatorships or in countries where people have no other means of participating in government, but they are a waste of time and unworthy of protection in Canada.”

In other words, while oppressed people are justified in demonstrating against state tyranny, people living in democracies should not indulge in such vulgarities. Or, if they do protest, they should accept a little police brutality.

These conclusions run counter to our democratic principles.

The right of individuals and groups to voice their opinions directly, openly, and through the most basic method of participation in demonstrations is a fundamental element of democracy, is essential for its survival and instrumental to both attaining and promoting it.

Without people’s desire to participate, democracy is rendered meaningless.

Demonstrations are particularly important in capitalist democracies because they give voice to disenfranchised members of society, allowing them to partake in democracy alongside the more powerful in a manner that is more accessible than making submissions to Parliament or writing policy papers. No other form of democratic participation offers this crucial benefit.

Demonstrations give people a sense of belonging and solidarity, which helps to strengthen their resolve and determination to make change.

When properly conducted and properly reported in the media, demonstrations grant visibility and exposure to issues that are otherwise ignored.

Specifically, the annual demonstrations during the G8/G20 summits send a message to leaders about the priorities of large segments of society:  focus on the environment;  don’t abandon the poor;  reinforce Aboriginal rights; stop corporations from committing or enabling human rights violations in other countries which we would not tolerate in our own democracies.

If Canadians and Americans, or, for that matter, Egyptians and Iranians avoid protests for fear of being arrested, assaulted, detained and threatened by the state, or for the pessimistic view that nothing will change, then, indeed, nothing will change.   Democracy will never be attained nor, once attained, will it survive without people’s ability and desire to participate directly in their own governance.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “There is more power in socially organized masses on the march than there is in guns in the hands of a few desperate men.” That conviction holds as true now as it did sixty years ago.

Of course, it is perhaps for all these same reasons that so many people, the police, and the state often fear and attempt to curtail demonstrations.

It is, therefore, never more important to protect our democratic rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom from unlawful and abusive police (state) interference with our rights than when people voice dissent and try to participate, peacefully, in democracy. To punish them for their participation is an attack against democracy.  If we reserve demonstrations only for dictatorships, we in the free world will surely lose our own liberty.

Every Canadian must defend and value our right to protest peacefully.  We owe it to our fellow human beings in the Middle East.  And our democracy depends on it.

(To see a short list of demonstrations that changed history…or at least, gave it a helping hand, click here: https://justicerequiresempathy.wordpress.com/?p=140&preview=true)

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