Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin, No. 54, June 21, 2010.

June 22nd 2010

1. Police accountability and the G20
2. Long gun registry data
3. SIU and the obligation to do reasonable investigations

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin, No. 54, June 21, 2010.

This Bulletin is published by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations in Toronto interested in police policies and procedures, and in making police more accountable to the community they are committed to serving. Our website is http://www.tpac.
In this issue:
1. Police accountability and the G20
2. Long gun registry data
3. SIU and the obligation to do reasonable investigations
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Police accountability and the G20.

The meeting of G20 leaders may be in Toronto on June 25 and 26; the Toronto police may be devoting thousands of officers to security and safety; the Toronto police service may be receiving millions of dollars from federal officials to covers the costs of staffing and supplies; but the Toronto Police Services Board has shown little interest in ensuring that police are accountable to the public in this policing venture, or that there is any accountability for police decisions.

The $1.2 billion expenditure for security didnt catch the Boards attention, nor did the extraordinary disruption predicted by the citys business leaders. Apparently what caught the attention of several Board members was that Toronto police would be purchasing and using Long Range Acoustic Devises to control demonstrators. That was the issues which caused several members to ask for a special board meeting on the afternoon of Friday June 11. This gave a chance for a handful of people to address the board on their concerns.

Chief Bill Blair began the meeting by saying that his first interest was Business Continuity. One expected him to say that the talk of business disruptions downtown  the Mirvish theatres closing for a week, much of Bay Street shutting down from June 23 on wards  was inflated rhetoric. That was not what he was talking about. He wanted to assure the Board that even though many thousands of officers would be attending to G20 security, every precinct and division would be operating in a normal fashion with regular amount of officers on duty. When Chief Blair talked of business continuity, the only business he was referring to was the police service. Board members nodded appropriately.

Chief Blair then turned to the four LRADs that had been purchased with federal funds. He said they were communication devices: they would mainly be used to tell demonstrators what police planned to do in response to what the demonstrators were doing. He said if some demonstrators became unruly  throwing stones for instance  the police could use the LRADs to tell demonstrators to back up or move to the left or whatever, so police could go after the trouble-makers. He was asked if he would agree to disable the Alert part of the LRADS that emitted a very loud noise  145dB, which will cause hearing damage  as the police in Vancouver had done, or whether the police planned to use this to disrupt the demonstrators as had been done in Pittsburgh. He said he was not willing to disable the Alert on the LRADS: it might be needed.

Members of the public were then heard, including Helen Armstrong who has led the opposition to LRADs. She made the point that she should not have to face hearing loss because she attended a demonstration in which she and most others were entirely peaceful. Others made the point that by suggestions the use of LRAD and refusing to limit its use, police were attempting to frighten people away from participating in peaceful protest. Natalie des Rosiers of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said that the Alert on the LRAD used to make a loud and terrifying noise was in fact a weapon, and therefore subject to regulatory control by the provincial government. Since this weapon had never been specifically approved by provincial regulation, it could not be used by police. CCLA had filed an injunctory procedure to prevent its use: the matter will be before the court on June 23. (CCLA was prepared an excellent paper on its concerns about how the police are planning for the G20: see www.ccla.org.)

TPAC presented a brief and asked the Board to be the accountability mechanism that the police so needed for planning and carrying out this massive security operation. TPAC had sent a letter on June 3 to the elected politicians downtown  MPs Bob Rae and Olivia Chow, MPPs Glen Murray and Rosario Marchese, and councillors Pam McConnell, Kyle Rae, Adam Vaughan and Joe Pantalone  asking them to exercise oversight, but they had shown little interest and only two had even bothered to reply. Part of our letter read:

We want you to meet with police and security officials and set guidelines and limits that will provide appropriate security for world leaders while preserving most elements of normal city life. We believe you will be able to work out the appropriate compromises between what the police and security officials would like, and the outcomes which Torontonians will find acceptable.

For instance, we want you, as the committee to which the police and security officials should be accountable, to:
* ensure that as little disruption as possible occurs to the flow of traffic for as short a period of time as is absolutely necessary. We are mindful of the possibility of car bombs, but we fail to see why great swatches of the city need to be shut down for several days.
* ensure that as little economic activity is disrupted as possible. We are aware that currently many businesses and services are so fearful of what the police are doing that they plan to shut down for much of the week of June 21. This kind of disruption is unacceptable.
* establish guidelines on the show of force that will be permitted. It looks as though the police will be heavily armed and visible everywhere. Thats not the kind of city we want, and we dont think it is necessary.
* establish guidelines on the use of force. It is terrifying to think that this equipment is there to be used, and it seems to be in the hands of many front-line officers called in for a few days, and with little experience in using it. There are accidents just waiting to happen. We need guidelines which put heavy equipment only in the hands of those specially trained in emergencies (such as emergency task forces), and then is clear about the very very limited events which might result in its use.
* make it clear that some of the weapons that have been purchased can never be used  such as sonic cannons. We note that the RCMP has already said it does not condone the use of sonic cannons in cities. We want a commitment from Toronto police that they will not be used.
* establish new guidelines about demonstrations which will not prohibit demonstrations except in the most sensitive locations. We should encourage peaceful demonstrations. From what the police have been saying, it looks as though anyone who tries to demonstrate except in Queens Park could be cornered and tear gassed and maybe arrested and taken to the warehouse in the portlands which the police have specially secured for this purpose. This is unacceptable.
* establish guidelines about if police will use tear gas, arrest demonstrators, and so forth. We are most concerned that police will overreact, as Toronto police have done during past demonstrations, and will put individuals in `preventative detention for eight or nine hours then releasing them without charge since they did nothing wrong. These police practices should not be permitted and police must be told clearly they may not proceed in that manner.
* get some handles on what the police are planning about agents provocateurs. As we learned in Quebec City a decade ago, policing officials seem ready to put their own agent provocateurs into law-abiding demonstrators in order to cause mayhem and discredit law-abiding demonstrators. We need assurances that will not happen here.
*establish guidelines for the use of helicopters and other noisy machines in the air to ensure they are rarely used in and around the downtown.

These are some of the issues which we ask you, the elected representatives of the downtown, to help resolve before the G20 occurs. You will be able to shine a bright light on what is occurring, and bring the needed accountability to what is being planned for this weekend. If the G20 is the opportunity to show Toronto to the world, lets ensure it is not a picture of an armed camp.

The Boards discussion stumbled badly. It first worried whether it could order the chief not to use the loud sound mechanism on the LRAD since that might be considered an `operational issue which the Police Services Act implied was not in its purview. (The Board has always interpreted its role narrowly, which gives the chief a free hand in every important decision about how policing services are delivered.) It decided to ask legal staff for a report on this matter. The Board refused to wade into any of the larger issues raised, including the CCLAs law suit. The craziest moment was when the Board worried about whether it should be sending flowers to those whose marriages had been cancelled at St. Andrews Church June 25, which is within the police perimeter: the Board said no.)

This meeting was yet another example of the Toronto Police Services Board showing little interest in ensuring that public concerns about police actions are addressed and that police actions are modified in respect to those concerns. Those looking for a body which will hold police accountable will turn in vain to the Board. One asks: what purpose does the Board serve except to legitimize whatever the police service does? What do individual members think they are achieving by serving on the Board, apart from the chair who draws a salary of $100,000 a year?

2. Long gun registry data

Various police organizations - Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Association of Police Boards, and Canadian Police Association - have been lobbying MPs to ensure they do not support the removal of long guns from the gun registry. This has been a matter of considerable debate in Ottawa, and some members of the Liberal and New Democratic parties have said they intend to support the removal of long guns from control, which would Allow the Conservative party motion to pass.

The success of the long gun registry in preventing deaths seems overwhelming. Here is part of the police organizations brief:

For the first time in Canada, we have a level of awareness of differences occurring across the country with respect to front line policing of incidents relating to firearms. We can now demonstrate evidence about the everyday seriousness of firearms in policing and to community safety all across Canada (assaults, violence). This evidence adds the context of rural firearms crime into this issue, instead of firearms being perceived solely as urban guns and gang crime. Finally, we can show the need for firearm controls in the rural areas just as they exist in urban areas due to the significant levels of firearm incidents occurring in rural and small urban areas across Canada.

"Canadas bigger cities- Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton, Winnipeg- contrary to public belief- do not have the highest rates of firearms incidents in Canada. Rural and small urban centres, especially those in the West, have higher rates, sometimes significantly higher, than the large urban centres. The purpose of firearms licensing in combination with registration is to improve community safety and reduce the misuse of firearms across Canada. Clearly this is a discussion that is needed between police and their local communities.

"The overall seriousness of firearms incidents is of great concern for both community and police officer safety as reported by Canadas rural and small urban policing provider- the RCMP. At least 74% of police-reported firearm incidents in rural and smaller urban areas are related to serious violations such as assaults, violence, threats, and unsafe storage, for example.

"Licensing and registration (firearm controls) are fully supported for handgun crimes occurring in urban areas. The same controls need to be applied for rural areas, where clearly, it is demonstrated that the misuse of primarily long guns is also a significant issue.

"There are thousands of court cases across Canada, and growing every year, that are dependent upon the firearms registry for firearms registration information (4000 requests made for affidavits). Approximately 56% of these cases involve the determination of ownership of a long gun.

"Since 2008, of the 55,000 long guns in police custody for public safety reasons, 46% were able to be traced back to their owner because of the existence of the long gun registry.

"Provinces with the highest number of firearms incidents and persons with prohibition orders are also showing that they refuse fewer license applications and revoke fewer licenses.

"Being able to trace a firearm back to its owner is important. Almost 1/5 of all long guns have been transferred 3 or more times. (859,433/6,510,000)

"Being able to trace a firearm back to its owner is important especially due to unsafe storage and thefts of large numbers of firearms. 129,481 individuals (non-collectors) in Canada legally possess 10 or more firearms; 10,872 individuals in Canada legally possess 30 or more firearms.

Buried among this powerful data is that fact that there are 6.5 million long guns in Canada, and these are frequently transferred from one individual to another. Not included is the fact that death from long guns have declined one third since the registry was put in place in 1995.

What would a reasonable MP be thinking in abandoning controls on such a large number of guns? These police organizations are to be commended on this effort.

3. SIU and the obligation to do reasonable investigations

The Ontario Divisional Court has recently ruled that a law suit suing the Special Investigations Unit for doing an investigation negligently and incompetently, may proceed.

The Special Investigation Unit must investigate any incident where police cause injury or death. Teenager Duane Christian was killed by police bullets in 2007 (See Bulletin No. 52.) His family alleges the SIU did a shoddy investigation of the incident, including failing to interview the officer who fired the shots that killed the teenager, and deciding not to lay charges when it had not seen the pathologists report.
Lawyer Peter Rosenthal, representing the Christian family, was quoted in the Globe and Mail, Allowing this case to go forward opens up possibilities for other victims of negligent investigations. The SIU has a responsibility to conduct competent investigations of all killings by police officers. In my view the investigation has hasty, superficial and grossly incompetent.

The SIU has been subject to many investigations  some seven in the past 13 years. The most recent was by the Ombudsman  see Bulletin No. 43.

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Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
E-mail: info@tpac.ca