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: firstname.lastname@example.org), Councillor Chin Lee (email@example.com), and Counciller Frances Nunziata (firstname.lastname@example.org). For contact information for other City Councillors, go to: http://app.toronto.ca/im/council/councillors.jsp.