Political leaders and police slither through gaping holes in public accountability systems
No 516 Posted by fw, July 3, 2012
“…the problem, I think, is so much more at the officer level, at the command level, and then the political level, because, you know, in theory, everyone being on videotape should have been enough intimidation to police, badge number or not, and that didn’t slow them down a bit. So they had to know that they weren’t going to suffer repercussions. So, final verdict on these reports. …I particularly thought the Ontario ombudsman report was at least powerful in describing how serious the problem was. But in the final analysis, I think we’re all agreeing here: no real accountability, and, yeah, it can happen again.” —Paul Jay, The Real News Network
Leaders are supposed to be exemplary role models for the rest of us, setting the tone and standard that nurture societal/organizational cultures promoting moral/ethical behaviour. Political leaders and police forces in particular have critical roles to play in this regard.
The results of various investigations into the Toronto G-20 scandal are now complete. Sadly, it is clear that Prime Minister Harper, Ontario Premier McGuinty and police forces have failed us, they have failed the acid test of moral leadership – “Let Right Be Done”. Or could it be that most Canadians have such low expectations of their political masters that they don’t care to notice this latest moral lapse? On a personal note, I feel less proud of our leaders, less proud of being Canadian.
This post offers a small selection of passages from the long transcript of a 28:30-minute video-recorded interview with lawyers Paul Copeland and Howard Morton. Host Paul Jay, Senior Editor, The Real News Network, leads the discussion revolving around three major investigative reports into chaotic events at the Toronto G-20 Summit in 2010. Added subheadings are intended to identify key ideas.
To read the full transcript and watch the complete video, click on the following linked title.
Could Police Repression at Toronto G20 Happen Again? The Real News Network, June 29, 2012
Paul Jay’s introduction –
Well, the last of the three big investigations into the actions of the Toronto Police at the G20 in 2010 is now in. The review, independent review commissioned by the Civilian Oversight Board of the Toronto Police was issued on Friday morning. [Click here for the full Independent Civilian Review into Matters Relating to the G20 Summit and here for the Executive Summary and Recommendations].
A few months ago, we had the report from the Ontario Independent Police Review director, which is Ontario-wide. About a year before that, we had the ombudsman’s report. And so now, apparently, this has been thoroughly investigated. Recommendations have been made. But the question is, for me, can this all happen again? That is, could we have more mass arrests, more violence, more excessive use of force by police against peaceful protesters in Toronto?
Now joining us to discuss these reports and help answer this question are, first of all, Howard Morton, sitting on your right, if you’re watching here. Howard is a criminal lawyer. He’s a member of the Law Union of Ontario. He’s been a prosecutor for the province of Ontario previously, for 17 years. He also ran the Ontario Special Investigations Unit, which investigates wrongdoing by police throughout Ontario. Thanks for joining us, Howard.
And on your left is Paul Copeland. Paul is a lawyer. He’s been director of the Law Society of Upper Canada since 1990. He’s a member of the Order of Canada. And he’s—has a long list of other credentials, which—I don’t have all of it in front of me. But, Paul and Howard, you’re both renowned. Thanks for joining us.
So, Paul, why don’t you kick things off? So the basic question is: has there been real accountability now? And could this all happen again?
There has not been real accountability
Copeland — I think there has not been real accountability. What you’ve had is snapshots of different pieces of the action. But there’s been nothing whatsoever to look at what the federal government did and how they caused all of this, so that there has been no responsibility there. And I think it could happen again. There are some recommendations that Mr. Morton made which may help in relation to some aspects of it, but without an overall viewing of it, I think we’re likely to see something similar, assuming that they’re stupid enough to have another G-20 meeting in downtown Toronto.
Morton — I agree with Paul. There has been no accountability in the sense of actually doing something about the police conduct that weekend. And it goes far beyond the G-20. I can tell you in a very mini version. Much of the police conduct that you saw during the G-20 weekend happens on a weekly basis in certain neighborhoods in this city. And what the reports failed to do, in my view, is to get at the real root of the problem.
The Independent Civilian Review failed to go to the heart of the issue – Where is the accountability?
The real question, Paul, is this: what is it that leads trained, experienced police officers to act in a way that contravenes several provisions of the Charter of Rights, engaging in what I view as being criminal activity, taking your badge—their badges off so they can’t be identified? What is it that causes officers to do that? And although the Morden report recommends more training, more interaction with the board, it suggests that the lack of lead time had a lot to do with this. But I say that none of those things go to the heart of the issue: where is the accountability of individual police officers to obey the law?
Toronto Police Services Board didn’t understand what they were supposed to be doing
Copeland — Well, that part of the report is amazing to me in how critical it was of the functioning of both the Toronto Police Services Board and, presumably, every other police services board in the province. It says they didn’t understand what they were supposed to be doing and they have to do a much better job, they have to be much more informed about what’s going on. And that goes way beyond just the issues of a mass demonstration in Toronto. One of the things that comes to mind when I was reading this was the general strip search statistics in Toronto, which are very high, and the board has done very little in the way of curbing any of that, even though there’s a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in the Golden case saying it shouldn’t be a routine matter. So the board has not carried out its function, and he’s pointed it out very clearly in this report that they’re not carrying out their oversight function.
Public inquiry is essential but McGuinty and Harper are not interested in looking at what they caused
Copeland — I would like to see a public inquiry that actually looked at the whole picture and looked at the role of all of the players in it, looked at the role of the federal government, looked at what they caused to happen, look at the role more closely, the role of the RCMP. I think that’s essential. And I don’t think we’ll see it. I don’t see any political party that’s—other than the NDP, but a political party that’s in power that’s interested in doing that. I don’t think Dalton McGuinty’s interested in looking at what they did, and I’m sure that Mr. Harper’s not interested in looking at what he caused.
Federal NDP’s questioning during parliamentary hearing was ineffectual
Jay – And I have to say, just before I ask you, Howard, the federal parliamentary hearings, the questioning from the NDP wasn’t much better than the questioning from the other parties. All they focused on was how much money was spent, and they did very little questioning in terms of the issue of civil rights. But, Howard, let me ask you the same question. How do we—what do we need now?
Recommendations fail to get to the heart of the problem – How do we ensure police abide by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and not engage in conduct which is completely abusive and illegal and even criminal?
Morton — I too would like a public inquiry where the commissioner would have full powers of subpoena, both of persons and documents, etc. But I think in addition to that my concern is all of these recommendations—and most of them are very good—do not go to the heart of the problem, which is: in any situation, G-20 or otherwise, how do we ensure that the police abide by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and not engage in conduct which is completely abusive and illegal, and in some cases criminal on their part? That’s the root of the problem.
Morton and Copeland have no conclusive answers to Paul Jay’s question: What do we do now?
Morton — I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. It could be in better recruitment policies. It certainly could be in greater training. One of the ways you could enforce it, for example, was the officers who removed their badges—and they would only do that if they were going to do something they didn’t want to be caught at—those officers at a minimum should have been suspended for six or 12 months, at a bare minimum, in order—that’s the only way you will teach the police, in my view, that they’re not to engage in certain conduct. A day’s pay with their salaries, which are very—well, they’re not extravagant, but they’re reasonable, that’s not even a kiss for the conduct that they engaged in.
Copeland — Well, that’s part of it. I mean, presumably the Police Services Board, if they were doing their job, might be able to recommend certain types of penalties in discipline matters, police discipline matters. As Howard said, the one day’s pay was not enough of a deterrent to affect the behavior, and I would think if there’s another demonstration in Toronto, you’ll see a whole bunch of officers removing their badges again. But if the board put out policies that made it clear that there were going to be serious consequences for that, it may change the behavior.
In the final analysis, there’s no real accountability and it can happen again
Jay – But, anyway, the problem, I think, is so much more at the officer level, at the command level, and then the political level, because, you know, in theory, everyone being on videotape should have been enough intimidation to police, badge number or not, and that didn’t slow them down a bit. So they had to know that they weren’t going to suffer repercussions.
So, final verdict on these reports. Some contributions and some specifics. I particularly thought the Ontario ombudsman report was at least powerful in describing how serious the problem was. But in the final analysis, I think we’re all agreeing here: no real accountability, and, yeah, it can happen again.
- Clayton Ruby alleges McGuinty and Harper are both implicated in G20, August 21, 2010
- Clayton Ruby: “What we’ve seen here is a picture of the police state to come.” August 24, 2010
- McMurtry’s G20 probe: “More smoke and mirrors?” October 21, 2010