injusticebusters logo

Toronto Police, 2004

Police board needs mayor Miller
Strong voice needed to confront police culture

Toronto Police Crest

In the 75 days since he was elected mayor, David Miller has hardly put a foot wrong. And bully for him.

But, in retrospect, there was arguably one misstep: declining a seat on the Toronto Police Services Board.

It's a right that comes with the office of Toronto mayor. Given how politically relevant the police board has become - quite properly, too, because police oversight is a crucial issue in the city and the board should not be seen as compliant or easily cowed - the mayor's presence on it is essential.

Miller defends his decision to give the board a pass.

"As mayor, it's important for me to sit on the police services board and the transit commission," he told the Star this week. "But I just can't do both at once."

Since he was already on the TTC board, and with public transit also a vital conundrum facing the city - a $48 million operating shortfall, the spectre of yet another fare increase if the provincial Liberals don't come to the rescue in their April budget - Miller considered it totally reasonable to stick with what he knew best as he slid into the big chair.

The plan, he says, is to serve 18 months on the transit commission, then the next 18 months on the police board.

"I'm kept well-briefed on police issues," he insists. "I speak to the chief every couple of days. I talk to all the city appointees regularly. I have two staff assigned to the board. I am properly briefed."

In lieu of himself, Miller sent three city councillors to the board: Pam McConnell, John Filion and Case Ootes. Another city appointee was Alan Heisey, voted chair. The province kicked in Allan Leach, Dr. Benson Lau and Norm Gardner. But Leach, a former Conservative cabinet minister, resigned last month. And Gardner, the old gun-gaga veteran hand on the board - it feels like he's been there forever - had to step aside, vacating the chair he'd held, while under investigation for accepting a discount-price firearm from a gun manufacturer and free ammunition from the police force.

Gardner might yet return to the board, although that seems unlikely. But at the moment, with all provincial appointments frozen under the new Liberal regime, the board is two bricks short of a seven-complement load.

This is an unfortunate, if unintended, state of affairs. Because it's been a long time since the police board has loomed this significantly in its governance role.

Under Gardner, and tilting palpably to the right, all had been relatively calm between the board and the Toronto Police Service. Or, to put it more bluntly, between the board and the Toronto Police Association, save for that ever-predictable squabble and muscle-flexing come contract time. This is meat 'n' potatoes management-union stuff, although Gardner - who's fiscally responsible, for all his cop-sucking - was quite useful in diffusing a threatened labour confrontation last time around.

But suddenly, in a climate of reform that's accompanied the ideological shift at Queen's Park, the police board is newly relevant and significant. Its composition, whilst awaiting further provincial appointments - it's a good bet those appointments won't be right-wing cop groupies - is no longer so cop-centric.

That's already raised the hackles of newly minted police union president Rick McIntosh, who learned his union tactics at the knee of bombastic predecessor Craig Bromell. McIntosh is not quite so splenetic, but the message he's thus far conveyed is no different: Mess with us and there will be trouble.

I doubt whether political activism is uppermost in the minds of most Toronto cops, but there was McIntosh on Thursday, getting all shirty with the police board over endorsement of political candidates.

He couched it as a Charter rights issue, but that's disingenuous.

The union, feeling particularly threatened with a reform mood at Queen's Park and a lefty tinge at city hall, covets political favours - a quid pro quo with politicos who'll walk its walk and talk its talk. (Although it can't be said that the association's endorsement did any good for losing mayoral candidate John Tory.)

Up against a heavy-handed and bullying cop culture, the board needs a strong voice speaking on behalf of a city that's reform-minded and a citizenry appalled - alarmed, too - by a slew of recent criminal charges against Toronto police officers.

The stench of mendacity, as uncovered by a lengthy RCMP probe, goes far beyond a half-dozen drug-squad cops.

"I was surprised and dismayed by the revelations," Miller says, referring to the police charges and the information contained in police probe affidavits unsealed this week. Miller did give full points to police Chief Julian Fantino - who sought the RCMP investigation - for commissioning retired judge George Ferguson to further investigate police corruption and how to prevent it.

Which is all fine and good, especially coming in the same week that Miller gave a most qualified endorsement of Fantino when the Star revealed the chief was seeking a two-year extension on his own contract.

But that's another issue.

Simply put, the police board needs the authority of the mayor's office within its ranks.

McConnell, going mano-a-mano with McIntosh on Thursday, proved that she's a scrapper, which is to the board's benefit. But she's also a left-wing shrew and easy for the union to marginalize when it plays its "usual suspects" card on the public. The others on the board, whatever their political ideology, have yet to show they possess the mettle to stand their ground in a forum where the enemy often plays dirty.

I suspect Miller has the mettle. Pity he's watching from the balcony.

Changes at top after chief tirade

More internal problems are brewing for Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino after a heated run-in with a senior officer. Fantino and Supt. Bob Strathdee became embroiled in a screaming match this week after Fantino made a surprise visit to 12 Division and Strathdee, sources say.

Details surrounding the reasons for Fantino's visit are sketchy, but reports that officers and clerical staff "ducked for cover" amid much yelling and door-slamming spread through the police service yesterday.

Sources say that Strathdee has in the past few days been removed as head of 12 Division and is now working in court support, or a similar position at police headquarters.

Bob Strathdee did not return telephone calls left on his police voice mail yesterday.

Clerks at 12 Division, asked for Strathdee, told the Sun he "is not here any more."

Calls were referred to newly appointed Supt. Mike Federico, who did not respond to a telephone message.

When the Sun asked Toronto Police director of corporate communications Mark Pugash about the alleged incident, he said, "right" -- but then excused himself to go to a meeting and transferred the call to spokesman Sgt. Jim Muscat.

"I do not have any information of any confrontation between the chief and any other senior officers," Muscat said.

Bob Strathdee, a one-time homicide cop with close ties to former chief and homicide star David Boothby, was head of internal affairs in April, 1999 when a litany of complaints were launched against drug squad officers.

Drug squad fallout rages
Chief faces heat amid corruption allegations

Miller wants assurance it won't happen again

Some officers face internal police hearings, but there will be no further criminal investigation of claims that police tried to silence witnesses during an RCMP-led corruption probe, Chief Julian Fantino said yesterday.

Fantino's comments came amid a storm of reaction to the release of court documents relating to the two-year probe of the central field command drug squad.

Some allegations include claims that potential witnesses were threatened by officers, raising concerns that problems inside the force go deeper than the charges laid two weeks ago.

Also yesterday, Mayor David Miller asked the chief to report on how to maintain public confidence in the force, while prominent lawyer Clayton Ruby called the internal handling of the investigation "a disgrace."

Fantino told a news conference that "attempts have been made" to investigate the alleged intimidation of witnesses described in sworn affidavits from the RCMP-led probe.

The task force's two-year investigation ended Jan. 7 with charges against six officers. Four others were named as "unindicted co-conspirators."

Fantino said some of the 17 officers investigated have been exonerated but did not know how many. Others will be probed by the professional standards and internal affairs units.

"We've only dealt with the criminal piece, as you know," he said. "But there's other sidebar issues that will have to be dealt with by Police Act charges."

The chief gave no hint of what charges could be filed.

Miller said Fantino had assured him yesterday that he would report to the police board on how to maintain public confidence in the force.

"Like every resident of Toronto, I want to be assured that this is an isolated case, and that every step is being taken to make sure that, whatever led to this, those conditions don't exist in future, and it won't happen again," Miller said. "It's not acceptable."

Ruby, one of three criminal lawyers calling for a royal commission into the handling of the corruption allegations, said the affidavits released Monday suggest corruption was broader than Fantino acknowledged.

The affidavits were filed in support of a Department of Justice effort to overturn the conviction of a heroin dealer, and were sealed until Monday. Three appeal court judges ordered the information released despite objections from lawyers representing the six officers, who said it might interfere with their right to a fair trial.

The allegations include claims that drug squad officers lied in court, beat up a drug dealer, took money from safety deposit boxes, and pocketed jewelry, narcotics and cash while doing searches.

"The disgrace is, and this is Fantino's failure, is that he's done nothing with all this evidence," said Ruby. "By the standard over which charges get laid by police, as opposed to against police, many more charges would have been laid."

Ruby said the handling of the scandal has damaged the reputation of the entire force.

"It leaves all the honest officers under a cloud, because we don't know who the people are that are crooks, in the view of (RCMP Chief Superintendent John) Neily, and unprosecutable in the view of Fantino. ... Fantino will have succeeded in creating his theory that this is a few bad apples, an isolated event, and we now know that it's not isolated."

Lawyer Edward Sapiano, who raised concerns about drug officers several years ago, said any public inquiry must go beyond just the officers now involved.

"We absolutely have to have a public inquiry, either before or after the criminal trials, that looks into police operations and actions. But it must also look at the inner workings, or non-workings, of the justice department, the office of the Attorney-General of Ontario and the two levels of courts, the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court," Sapiano said.

"The public and interested parties should be asking themselves ... How is it this was allowed to go on for so long and to such a degree under the noses of the prosecutors and the judges?" Sapiano said.

In the affidavits unsealed this week, Neily, the RCMP officer who led the probe, said investigators consulted with crown attorneys, isolated stronger cases and concentrated on those with the best chance of conviction.

The task force laid 40 criminal charges against six former members of the Central Field Command drug squad, involving offences ranging from assault and extortion to theft and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

At the time of the arrests, Fantino said the allegations were "isolated and confined."

But a glimpse into the 2½-year investigation by Neily's task force suggests otherwise.

Neily, in one of several affidavits sworn in a bid to keep sealed court records that might jeopardize the investigation, states the investigation was impeded by police tactics of terrorizing witnesses and a refusal by suspected officers to co-operate with investigators.

From day one, Neily stated, his 31-member team, largely composed of Toronto police investigators, faced a hostile reception from the police rank and file.

"We are receiving very little co-operation from witness police officers of the Toronto Police Service, and in fact, it can be fairly stated that witness police officers are antagonistic towards this investigation," he wrote in one affidavit.

Those willing to speak as witnesses faced potential recrimination, he stated.

In one case, an officer who had co-operated with an earlier phase of the investigation heard indirectly "that he would get his kneecaps broken for having talked to the internal affairs investigators," according to an affidavit sworn by former internal affairs officer Detective Sergeant Randy Franks.

Officers weren't the only ones worried about speaking out.

An informer who provided information later stopped talking to investigators after "he had been pulled over by five unknown persons and threatened with a gun," Franks wrote in his affidavit. "The assailants told the witness that if they found out that it was him (who had co-operated with the investigation), he was dead."

Neily also worried for the safety of the non-police witnesses, stating that if their identities were made public, they would have to be admitted to the witness protection program.

Neily described how charges of theft, fraud and forgery against three officers, laid in connection with the force's informant fund, were dropped. The cases unravelled, in part, after an integral witness "expressed extreme fear for his safety, recanted, had intentionally injured himself, threatened further self-mutilation if forced to testify and was ultimately assessed by the crown as unreliable," he stated.

At one stage, Neily stated that "evidence of criminal activity" included 17 members of the Central Field Command Drug Section - 11 more than were charged earlier this month.

At the time, Neily wrote he was planning to identify only those suspected of committing the most serious crimes. The others, he hoped, "may become witness officers" and will be subject to review under the Police Services Act, he stated.

By his last affidavit, submitted to the court last June, Neily had whittled the number down to 12 officers. The others may have conducted themselves in ways that were "unprofessional or on the borderline of criminal behaviour," but his team didn't have strong enough evidence to charge them, Neily wrote.

The probe, which cost about $3 million, was a huge undertaking. It involved 26 officers, five support staff and outside professionals, including forensic accountants, and criminal intelligence analysts who looked at patterns of officer behaviour.