Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 24

November 28th 2005

1. Board/Association Labour Settlement
2. Helicopters for the Police?
3. Whatever happened to the Lesage recommendations?
4. New City of Toronto legislation
5. Gun violence and youth in Toronto
6. Wyann Rusos wait

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 24, November 28, 2005.

This bulletin is published monthly 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.ca

In this issue:
1. Board/Association Labour Settlement
2. Helicopters for the Police?
3. Whatever happened to the Lesage recommendations?
4. New City of Toronto legislation
5. Gun violence and youth in Toronto
6. Wyann Rusos wait
7. Subscribe to the Bulletin

1. Board/Association Labour Settlement

After more than three weeks of job action the Toronto Police Association decided to settle their labour dispute with the Toronto Police Service Board. Even though the Executive of the Association had reached a tentative agreement with the Board, it threatened to continue the job action for a further two weeks until members had formally ratified the deal. That threat was taken off the table when the Association was able to get the Police Chief and the Board to back down on a demand resulting from proposed discipline from the chief over one incident during the job action. .

What became very clear was that the labour action was not as much about money and benefits as about power, and whether the control of the Board and the Chief could be shaken by the Association. Most financial items were not in dispute. The amount of compensation was never in dispute, at least for the first three years of the agreement  it provided increases slightly higher than those agreed to with city staff several months ago.

There were three matters in contention. First, whether a lump sum payment of several thousand dollars would be paid to each officer as it had been in past years to entice officers to stay with Toronto force rather than join another. The Board argued that officers were no longer leaving the Toronto police force in such high numbers and therefore there was no need to make the payment. Second was the issue of continuing to pay officers who worked four days a week for five lunch hours a week. Third was whether the contract should be four years as proposed by the Board, or three years as proposed by the Association.

Police are not allowed to strike in Ontario: disputes are resolved by binding arbitration. But the Association preferred a confrontation with the Board to arbitration. That confrontation started with the Association instructing its members to be soft issuing parking and traffic tickets, an action that lost the city an alleged $400,000 in revenue weekly. Then, police began issuing yellow information forms the same size and colour as a parking ticket  they proselytized for their cause while on public duty and paid by the public. The Chief indicated that this was inappropriate but there was some question as to the extent to which this practice was stopped. The police replaced their hats with Association caps. These were worn even in court rooms as though part of the police uniform.

The Association convened a rally from Union Station up to City Hall and, contrary to the advice of the Chief, urged officers to appear in full uniform. Chief Blair indicated that it was inappropriate for a police officer involved in a demonstration and not on duty to appear in uniform, carrying a gun and other paraphernalia. Several hundred officers joined in the rally, and close to one hundred were in uniform. The chief indicated he would take disciplinary action.

The tentative settlement finally came with the Board collapsing on the outstanding items and agreeing to accept the Association position. But the Association vowed to carry on job action until the ratification vote, two weeks away. Chief Blair then agreed that in lieu of formal disciplinary action, officers who had attended the march in uniform would be docked three days pay with no notation on their work record of their unwillingness to follow the chiefs order.

The Toronto Police Association often tries to discredit progressive voices on the Toronto Police Service Board the Toronto Police Association, whether by confrontation or intimidation. It happened in the past with councilors Olivia Chow and Judy Sgro, with past chair Alan Heisey, and others. The recent actions by the Association must be viewed in this light. In the coming months other attacks will undoubtedly be made on the progressive members of the Toronto Police Service Board.

One really has a sense that members of the Association dislike the idea of being accountable to civilian oversight of any kind: their actions indicate they think they should be running the show without any sense of accountability. It is hardly a good reason to make them the best paid officers in Canada.

2. Helicopters for the police?

A proposal was made at the Toronto Police Service Board on November 16 that the Toronto police should have helicopters. It was an odd proposal.

An organization called Regional Air Support and Rescue (RASAR), claiming charitable status, proposed to the Board that it would provide three helicopters and one fixed wing aircraft to Toronto police no cost. RASAR proposed to raise $10 million a year to fund this, and urged the Board simply to accept these gift helicopters.

More than a dozen deputations appeared to oppose the proposal, citing the noise that helicopters would cause, the unattractive surveillance that would result and the fact that policing priorities should not be determined by private funding. City Councillor Karen Stintz was a surprise deputant, arguing in favour of the RASAR proposal and disputing the claims that helicopters would be noisy or that private funding would be a problem. The Board decided to ask the Chief to report back on the RASAR proposal within three months.

It is a bit odd to see a charity making such a strong political advocacy campaign for its own cause since charities are generally not permitted to be advocates. RASAR seems to be more of a promotional exercise with a charitable cover than a normal charity. If RASAR wants to provide equipment free of charge to the police, why do they not leave the choice of the helicopter to the police rather than specifying it be the Eurocopter EC-120? By wedding its proposal to a specific helicopter, RASAR reinforces its role as more of a lobby that a disinterested charity.

Many charities would balk at the notion of having to raise $10 million a year for any local program. Some deputants thought that kind of funding unlikely  RASAR does not have a strong fund-raising track record - and that the Board would quickly find itself bearing the lions share of the costs, whatever RASARs promises.

Before the meeting Chief Bill Blair said in an interview on CBC TV, I think a helicopter is valuable, although he was careful not to voice an opinion on this proposal. Mayor David Miller, a member of the Board who did not attend the debate, indicated a distinct lack of interest saying I do not support putting public resources into a helicopter. I never have, as you know. It remains unclear what will happen when this matter comes forward in February.

3. Whatever happened to the Lesage Recommendations?

The recommendations of former Justice Patrick Lesage on the police complaints system were released in June of this year and Attorney General Michael Bryant promised speedy action. But there is no sign they will be coming forward during the current legislative session which recesses on December 8. The Legislature next meets on March 20. The Bill will undoubtedly be subject to public hearings given that it will be contentious - police officers generally oppose strong a police complaints commission  which means legislation may not be passed until the end of 2006. That puts it dangerously close to the next provincial election in the fall of 2007.

So whats the timetable? The Attorney Generals office is silent on the date when legislation is expected. Will the government really move ahead on this important issue?

4. New City of Toronto legislation.

A committee of senior city and provincial staff working under the direction of the Mayor of Toronto and the Minister of Municipal Affairs has released its long-awaited report on what a new City of Toronto Act should contain. The report is titled `Building a 21st century city and it suggests a limited expansion of the Citys powers and a very limited expansion of the citys ability to raise revenues.
(The report is at http://www.toronto.ca/mayor_miller/pdf/toact_finalreport111405.pdf . )

It proposes that all provincial legislation except for the Municipal Act should continue to apply to Toronto, which means there is no escaping the dictates of the Police Service Act. That act specifies that Toronto must have a seven member Police Service Board, three of whose members are appointed by the province. Many have argued the Board should be larger, and since city taxpayers pay virtually the full cost of policing, theres no reason to give the province such a large say on the board.

The legislative package for Toronto should allow Toronto to run its own affairs with respect to a great many thing  including policing. It should be allowed to establish its own civilian oversight for police.

The draft legislative proposal by staff is in dire need of change  it is not good enough. given the vast limitations of the legislative framework imposed by the province.

5. Gun violence and youth in Toronto

The violence among Black youth in Toronto seems to show no signs of abating. More than a murder a week by guns is what, sadly, is expected to occur, as Toronto demonstrates that it has lost all innocence.

What is to be done? There seem to be two competing approaches. One is defined as the `get tough strategy, as embodied in the statements of Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, asking for minimum mandatory sentences for gun crimes and similar changes, including hiring more police officers. The other can be defined as the `get real strategy, as embodied in the statements of federal Attorney General Irwin Cotler, asking for investments in youth including youth employment strategies.

We are firmly in the `get real camp. Kids in the projects turn to guns and violence when it looks as though theres no other way of getting ahead. Welfare rates were cut by 22 per cent in 1995, and have been frozen ever since at that level save for a three per cent increase last year. Employment Insurance benefits have been sliced badly in Toronto, as has eligibility for EI. Governments stopped building affordable housing in 1995, and they began to cut recreation programs for youth shortly thereafter. Kids who are a challenge at school get kicked out. Programs for youth in trouble have been slashed, and its next to impossible to get a youth into a counseling program, given the waiting lists. No wonder kids turn to gangs and drugs which offer status and opportunities to be admired by peers. The costs are exceptionally high, but when theres nothing else offered, whats a kid to do?

When presented with increases in gun violence among youth four or five years ago, then police chief Julian Fantino said hed take ownership of the problem and with more officers hed get the problem under control. It didnt work. Giving the police ownership of this problem is exactly the wrong strategy since its not a police problem, its a social problem which can be addressed by putting appropriate social programs in place. David Miller seemed to understand this 18 months ago when he established a community programs headed by chief Justice Roy McMurtry, but that initiative has been poorly funded, and now Miller has said its really a police problem.

Until we get serious and begin again to invest funds into the big social programs which affect the lives of black kids  housing, income support, job opportunities, flexible schools, good reaction  well never make a dint in the problem. Its time for city councillors, the mayor, and provincial politicians to give voice to a `get real strategy, and start investing the needed money into the needed social programs.

It has taken much too long for the police to respond well to the issue  this problem with guns and youth has been evident for at least five years  but it is good that the police management on November 22 appointed a unit which will be responsible for general police strategy in this area. It is called the `urban organized crime squad, and consists of 14 officers, headed by Inspector David McLeod, a 26 year veteran on the force. McLeod and most the officers on the unit are Black, which may assist in a better police response.

On Wednesday November 30, Chief William Blair will be speaking on this issue as part of a Hart House Debate, at University of Toronto. The event is at 7 pm, in the Debates Room on the second floor of Hart House, University of Toronto. The event is open to the public, and will be broadcast live on CIUT 89.5 FM.

6. Wyann Rusos wait

On November 3, 2004, Wyann Ruso took her husbands gun to police at 42 Division after he had threatened to kill her. The police promised to arrest him quickly, warning her not to return home until they did. The did not arrest him. Over four hours later, Ms Ruso felt she could wait no longer since she had to prepare dinner for her adult disabled daughter. She returned home. Her husband attacked her in their garage and beat her severely, almost killing her.

Then Chief Julian Fantino admitted that there had been an error committed by police, and promised a full internal review of the incident. That was just over a year ago. In spite of constant questioning, no further information has emerged from police  no apology to Wyann, no offer of compensation, and no information about the promised review. There is no information if the officers involved have been disciplined, or given further training. Women have no reassurance that the same thing will not happen again.

Ms Ruso continues to suffer physically and emotionally from this attack. And she faces the further indignity of having to sue the police to get them to do the right thing  apologize and offer her compensation. A group of women have come together to support Ms Ruso. They have created post cards to sign, and they will be presented to the chief and the Board at the next Police Services Board meeting on December 15. For more information about this initiative, write to awillats@sympatico.ca .

6. Subscribe to the Bulletin

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