Again and again….and again…..

……..policing vs the rules

“A man left in pain and naked in a Brantford police holding cell for hours has filed a $2.5-million lawsuit against the Brantford Police Service Board, the chief of police and six police officers.”  Alyshah Hasham, Toronto Star, Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Philip Alafe, a 27 year-old Nigerian refugee claimant, in Canada since 2010, and living in Etobicoke, was arrested on an outstanding warrant late in the afternoon of July 3 in 2015 for driving offenses in Brantford. He was transported by the OPP to Brantford where he told the booking officer at the police station he had mental health issues – depression and anxiety – and suffered from sickle cell anemia. Without medication sickle cell anemia causes extreme pain. There was no indication he was suicidal, and the booking officer noted he was sober and passive.

Ontario Court Justice Kenneth Lenz stayed Mr. Alafe’s criminal charges in April of this year after ruling Brantford police, and Staff Sgt. Cheney Venn in particular, subjected Alafe to “cruel and unusual treatment”, and violated his rights under sections 7 and 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Judge Lenz described the treatment as “egregious” and “clearly degrading to human dignity” after viewing the video exhibits, and found that Staff Sgt. Venn repeatedly violated police policies on the handling of people in custody and people with mental health concerns. “They were just treating me worse than an animal,” is how Philip Alafe put it.

Simply put, Mr. Alafe spent the evening and much of the night at first being ignored when his medical needs where not met, doing what he could to protest and, as the judge put it, “was a pain in the neck” as his discomfort increased. But, the police officers on duty not only didn’t respond according to policy, they…..Staff Sgt. Venn notedly….became aggressive, belligerent, and bullying, eventually leaving Mr. Alafe naked in a cold cell. This only exacerbated his pain. It wasn’t until a shift change the next morning that matters were put right.

Interestingly, nowhere in the material does the issue of race arise. The statement of claim filed with the Superior Court in Toronto alleges the defendants “maliciously, intentionally, unlawfully and/or without justification subjected the plaintiff to an escalating course of punishment, deprivation of basic needs, physical assault, infliction of mental anguish and other infliction of harm.”

August 1, 2017

Geoffrey Nelson, Chief,
Brantford Police Department,
344 Elgin Street,
Brantford, ON N3S 7P6

Re: “They were just treating me worse than an animal”

Chief Nelson:

In the very early 60s, then a naïve country boy new to Toronto, I met with a local police commander, looking to improve relations between police and members of the community in which I lived.

That meeting did not go well. It seemed positive community relations were subordinate to intrusive control of civilians, even if it meant skirting rules, policy and the law.

Assuming Alyshah Hasham’s report in the July 22 Toronto Star is factual, your Staff Sergeant Cheney Venn’s treatment of Philip Alafe not only caused Ontario Court Justice Ken Lenz to stay charges against Mr. Alafe, but is another example of how little police culture has changed in the last half century.

Too bad. After all, when push comes to shove, it is the people who are really in charge.

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Again and again….

……….policing vs the rules

The Toronto Star reported in the second week of July that a Belleville judge had ‘blasted’ the local OPP detachment for an ‘egregious’ strip search of a DUI suspect, and forthwith stayed the impaired driving charges.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled 15 years ago that strip searching is “inherently humiliating and degrading”, and should only be done when there are reasonable grounds to do so. Yet, police across the province have continued to conduct what judges deem illegal searches. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) announced last July that it was undertaking a review of police search practices provincewide as a response.

“I’ve had enough. There is no regard being given to the rules”, OIPRD head Gerry McNeilly told the Star when contacted about this case. The lawyer for the accused in the Belleville court added, “The police can no longer take the position that they were unaware of what the law was. There’s no uncertainty now. It cannot be said that there’s any question with what the law is with respect to strip searches.”

Nonetheless, what is particularly challenging in this story is that one of the officers involved testified that she has not changed her practice, in spite of advice from her seniors.

We contributed our own perspective to the OPP.

August 1, 2017

Inspector Christina Reive, Detachment Commander,
Quinte West Detachment, OPP,
3 Dixon Drive, P.O. Box 1050,
Trention, ON K8V 6E6

Re:  Say it isn’t so!

Inspector Reive:

Assuming the Toronto Star’s Monday, July 20, front page headline is correct, and Jacques Gallant’s supporting report is factual, we have a problem, don’t we?

“Judge blasts OPP for ‘egregious’ strip search” not only charges two of your officers with breaking the law, but one of them, Amanda MacFadden, testified she won’t change her practice.

Now, tell us again, why we should give a damn about respecting our police services?

Yours truly,

Charles H. Klassen

Now, here’s an idea…….

….let’s lighten the load in Ontario’s courts.

The Toronto Police Accountability Coalition received a small grant which it used for research on pre-charge screening, a practice where Crown prosecutors vet charges police wish to lay. British Columbia, Quebec, and New Brunswick were the models studied, and we’re quoting the results of the research from the TPAC Bulletin No. 104, June 12, 2017.

“The courts in pre-charge provinces have considerably lower caseloads, and average of 22 per cent lower than the other provinces. If Ontario used the pre-charge system established in Quebec, the case load in Ontario would have been 70,500 rather than 93,700. (Note: No time period specified by TPAC)

Multi-charge cases – often a sign of over-charging – are much less frequent in pre-charge provinces. Ontario has 1.5 times as many multi-charge cases per capita as Quebec.

In pre-charge provinces many fewer cases are either stayed or withdrawn. The number stayed or withdrawn in Quebec is 9 per cent; in Ontario, 46 per cent.

Pre-charge screening leads to better use of precious court time, as well as the time and energy of those in the criminal justice system, and protects members of the public from charges deemed no supportable by the court.”

More information is available from info@tpac.ca, referencing bulletin No. 104.

Bulletin: Pre-screening is not a new idea in Ontario……and TPAC is not the first to suggest the province could benefit from it.

A Globe and Mail editorial back on September 23 of 2016 commented on a MacDonald-Laurier Institute study which noted: “In Ontario, 43 per cent of charges laid are ultimately stayed or withdrawn. Of those that do go to trial, the conviction rate is just 55 per cent. Ontario has by far the lowest conviction rate in the country, and the highest number, again by far, of cases that are dropped.

In Quebec, where police must get the approval of a Crown prosecutor before laying charges, a mere 8.6 per cent of charges are stayed or withdrawn, and the conviction rate is 75 per cent. In British Columbia, where the Crown similarly has to approve charges, only 29 per cent of charges are dropped and the conviction rate is 70 per cent.”

How often police in Ontario overcharge to guarantee that something sticks is a subjective assessment, but it happens. Considering the complaints and concerns about court backlogs, the delays in bringing cases to trial, and the July 2016 Supreme Court decision in R v. Jordan setting time limits from charge to resolution, why wouldn’t the province have jumped on the pre-screening bandwagon?

Why not indeed? The question won’t get an answer, but it’s only too easy to surmise someone is protecting turf.

The Neptune Four – waiting, waiting, waiting

Confidence and trust….still an illusion.

We introduced a story on March 13 of last year, a story which began in November of 2011 when four teenage boys were stopped by police in the common area of their Neptune Drive housing complex. “Confidence and trust” positioned Toronto police chief Mark Saunders’ call for building and restoring public faith in our police service against one particular police-negative incident. We included our March 10 letter to Chief Saunders which criticized the delay in resolving the questions around the behaviour of his officers on that day in 2011, and the failure to reach an accommodation for punitive damages with these four black teenagers.

The teens, now known as ‘The Neptune Four’, filed a suit against the police. Two of the five officers named in the suit also face a total of four misconduct charges under the Police Act, the two who had originally stopped the young men. The Ontario Human Rights Commission applied to participate in the police tribunal disciplinary hearing to ensure racial profiling was considered as playing a role in that interaction with police on November 21 in 2011.

That hearing was not scheduled to begin until October of last year, five years after the incident!

We ran “The Neptune Four – an update” on October 9. By that time, the tribunal had considered the OHRC intervenor status application. That was denied on Monday, July 11 last year because a hearing officer ruled that the tribunal didn’t have the ability to grant the commission’s involvement. The Toronto Star’s Jim Rankin was as frustrated by that decision as we were, and the paper published a July 15 editorial, calling for changes to the rules, citing there was time to do just that before the hearing was to begin in October.

Nothing happened.

Since then, and shortly before the tribunal was to start, one of the two subject officers submitted a motion to have a police inspector acting as the hearing officer – the tribunal judge – removed, claiming possible bias. The motion alleged that this adjudicator had recently committed a misconduct himself and was “let off the hook” by Toronto police.

The motion said there was a reasonable perception an impartial decision could not be reached, because the lawyer representing this subject officer had previously spoken for another officer against that inspector in his own tribunal hearing, referring to an order he had issued as “unlawful, outrageous, and criminal.”

The motion to have the hearing officer removed was argued at a Toronto police tribunal in December, and with that same particular police inspector adjudicating. And, that inspector’s 78 page decision came down on Friday, March 3 of this year, clearing himself of bias. The report concluded the motion failed to show enough grounds to justify his removal from the case, and that the claims in it were assumptions only.

So now, when will all this move forward? Our only suggestion is to stay tuned.

To quote from the October 9 posting, “We shouldn’t be surprised if this hearing drags on for months, with postponements, delays, and legal challenges. One thing we can conclude with certainty. In the end, the City of Toronto and its taxpayers will be turning over a handsome albeit undisclosed and confidential settlement to the complainants.”

Confidence and trust? There are many Neptune-Four-type cases in a city the size of Toronto, each with its own champions. Some wait too many years for resolution, some never get to that point, some do. No matter. The police are first and foremost at our service, but for as long as there remains no completely impartial and at-arms-length process to referee conflicts we have with our officers, and bring these to a timely and speedy conclusion, trust remains an elusive end.

Policing & ‘alternative facts’

Waseem Khan was in downtown Toronto with his wife on the last Tuesday morning in January, taking his daughter to daycare. He saw one in a group of police officers pull a man from the back seat of a cruiser, put him face down on the ground, and then kick the man in the head. Khan stopped after witnessing that, took out his phone, and began recording from about 20 feet away.

The video shows an officer stomping on the man’s legs, telling him to “stop resisting”, even though the man was motionless and may have been unconscious. Two officers approached Khan, telling him to stop recording, threatening to take his phone as evidence (which they cannot do), and suggesting the man under police control might spit at him and transmit AIDS (which is not true). Khan stopped recording shortly after, but filed a complaint, calling police behaviour ‘disgusting.’

The ‘Khan incident’ captured media attention for three days in the city, and came less than two weeks after a misconduct case against Toronto Police was resolved through mediation. This was in relation to another incident where police wrongfully tried to block a member of the public from taping an arrest. And, this on top of a guilty decision against a police officer last week by an arbitration board in a GTA community when a teenager was arrested and charged, held overnight, and her phone confiscated when she wouldn’t stop recording a police action.

The proliferation of mobile recording technology has been a boon to ‘reality’ entertainment everywhere, but it has even more so too often shown police activity our law enforcement agencies would prefer remain out of sight. It is not the technology that prompts the actions that are videotaped, but rather a technology that is readily at hand to record policing in the bad light that has too commonly been accepted as ‘standard operating practice.’ For example, accompanying punishing use of force unnecessarily by ordering a compliant victim to “stop resisting.”

An interesting police response has evolved from the hours of readily available videotape, some of it taken by police bodycams and cruiser cameras, as well as so much more from the public. That is the claim that film may not reliably show the whole story, that a camera angle may be biased, or that the before and after are relevant. The objectivity of film must be tempered by subjective assessment. In other words, alternative facts, which have become watchwords in the United States in 2017, must be part of the equation.

We have just one question. With alternative facts, under what circumstance is it okay for a police officer to kick a prone man in the head?

Carding….it just won’t go away.

 ……everyone’s problem

A rhetorical question from a young black Torontonian to a newspaper reporter a couple of years ago: “Just where is this mysterious black man the Toronto police are always looking for?” It seems that a common explanation given by the police for stops is the search for a suspect sighted in the area.

Here we are at the end of 2016, and carding is still taking up the time and resources of police boards in Ontario, attracting media attention, and spawning protests and objections. Data isn’t readily available but it’s likely this same conflict is raised in every urban centre in the country.

Mohamed Salih is a thirty-year-old London city councillor. As an adult, he’s been stopped 15 times by police as he’s traveled across southern Ontario, including Toronto, Peel, Kitchener-Waterloo, and in his hometown. Each time it was for no reason and each time it was humiliating.

Salih made an emotional address to London city council in the middle of November, underscoring the damaging impact of carding/’street checks’ on parts of the community, and the “devastating” realization particularly on children to know their family car has been pulled over because they are black.

At his urging to do right, and after a standing ovation from his fellow councillors, a motion passed unanimously calling for a permanent end to the practice. Not only is London the first city in Canada to ban carding, but the vote implicitly criticized the new provincial regulations for not going far enough to restrict police intrusions into peoples’ lives. Council’s decision will still have to pass London police board scrutiny to become policy.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, the police board is implementing the revised street check provincial standards which are really an attempt to mollify critics without making any substantial changes to the how and why of police stops. Desmond Cole’s op-ed in the November 24 Toronto Star makes a valid argument that the point of carding is more about control than safety.

‘Control’ is one of the tenets of police training, and understandable when warranted. However, what is also true about police training is to never surrender an advantage once gained. The practice of stopping people under whatever guise sounds reasonable has been a part of our landscape for decades. That this now is focused primarily on blacks and other minorities has galvanized parts of society into one united protest.

In truth, we could all benefit from the comfort of knowing we are the ultimate controlling social force. That so many of us turn away from what does not directly disadvantage us…..for the moment at least….is cause for refection on the state of our humanity.

How many police stops should one man take?

Going all the way back to the July 27, 2015 posting, “A ‘carding’ game. Wanna play?”, the Toronto Star’s Jim Rankin and other reporters started a campaign to help people learn what the Toronto Police Service had collected during “carding” stops, and asked that their information be shared with the newspaper. A compilation of the results would reveal what was in the police database.

So, what happened?

I asked Jim Rankin this summer if we had blinked and missed something. “No, you didn’t miss anything,” he wrote back, “It never gained much traction, unfortunately.” He didn’t speculate as to why, but we could presume privacy issues might be a factor, but more importantly, the curious would have to submit access to information requests (the Star offered financial assistance if needed). Too much work? Fear?

Mr. Rankin suggested we stay tuned for a story he was completing about a Toronto man who had gone after the information on his own ‘cards’. While this person had never been convicted of a crime, there had been more than 40 encounters with police, and some of the notations on those cards were described as “quite troubling.”

“The man Toronto police won’t stop stopping” was published on the front page under the paper’s banner on Sunday, August 14. The story continued for a full page inside the first section.

Dale James, a slim 33 year-old black Torontonian has been stopped and ‘carded’ dozens of times by police on a regular basis over 16 years. He now stays home most days in the apartment he shares with his mother in northwest Toronto, and has stopped the trips to a therapist for treatment of depression, even though it’s getting worse. He fears for his life if he’s not able to avoid more contact with police.

Dale submitted multiple freedom-of-information requests and was able to retrieve details of 43 encounters with Toronto police from 2006 to 2015, and is appealing to Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner for what he believes are many more. The Star’s own analysis of contact card data indicates that James is correct, finding dozens more that involve him.

James and his younger brother are suing Toronto police for $2.2 million in damages, claiming an assault on James, racial profiling, arbitrary detention and search of James outside their apartment, and further, that police are “terrorizing” the entire family. There has already been one “substantial” settlement by Toronto police as the result of a 2013 lawsuit and a human rights complaint, but his lawyer says the details can’t be disclosed.

The contents of the numerous contact cards are contentious, lengthy, subject to argument, and very likely on the wrong side of the law in many instances. Nonetheless, James and his lawyer, Osborne Barnwell, visited a high-ranking officer in the local police division last year that resulted in a confidential resolution intended to develop a more positive relationship with police. The agreement also included a provision to assist with counselling services.

The latest lawsuit arises because that agreement had no impact on police behaviour towards Dale James and his family. It’s not a stretch to conclude that Toronto Police Service management did intend to resolve the issues between the two parties, but some officers on the street would have none of it.

This begs the question:  just who do our police think is in charge here, anyway?

The Neptune Four – an update

Take a minute to review “Confidence and trust” from March 13 of this year. Four black teenagers are stopped by police a way back in November of 2011, assaulted, arrested, charged, released, and vindicated. They’ve become known as the Neptune Four after the street on which their homes are located.

The teenagers are suing the police. The two Toronto officers who first came into contact with the young men were subsequently charged with misconduct. The Toronto police disciplinary tribunal for the two charged officers is scheduled for this month, October of 2016, almost five years later!

As matters stood in March, the Ontario Human Rights Commission wanted standing at the discipline hearing. It was a rare request for intervenor status, unprecedented for a police tribunal. The OHRC intended to ensure the tribunal considered racial profiling which it believes is a clear factor in the alleged misconduct.

But, on Monday, July 11, the Toronto police hearing officer ruled that, because the tribunal does not have the ability to grant the human rights’ commission involvement in the process, its request to participate had to be denied. The Toronto Star later ran an editorial calling on the regulations to be changed.

The teens were originally charged with assaulting police, and one who did not want to answer police questions was charged with threatening death and assault with intent to resist arrest. All charges were withdrawn. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director found the youth were not misbehaving and that the stop and subsequent questioning violated their charter rights.

Jim Rankin at the Star has been on top of this story from the beginning. Given how long it has taken to get this far, we shot a note off to him in the summer suggesting we should hope these four former teenagers who are now men will not be sending their own kids to mentoring sessions before this wraps up. His response…… “Amen!”

We shouldn’t be surprised if this hearing drags on for months, with postponements, delays, and legal challenges. One thing we can conclude with certainty. In the end, the City of Toronto and its taxpayers will be turning over a handsome albeit undisclosed and confidential settlement to the complainants.

There’s a point that needs to be made here too in view of incidents like this, and the even more unsettling interactions between police and young black men in the United States. African-American and African-Canadian mothers and fathers are well-advised to “police proof” their sons at an early age.

One of many memorable quotations in the lexicon of Jack Bernstein, the revered head of film for Famous Players during the 1970s and 80s may be suitable here…..”So, to this it’s become!”

A badge but no gun?

Comedian Chris Rock once suggested we should outlaw bullets, not guns. But, either way, guns and bullets are a lethal combination.

“If we keep enabling deadly police confrontations, we will be forced to keep justifying deadly outcomes.”
This is from Desmond Cole’s Toronto Star column of December 3rd last year, “Time to disarm the police”. He’s become a weekly contributor to the newspaper’s op-ed page, his work centering on racial, policing, and social justice issues.

Desmond argues that Toronto police are too quick to resort to deadly force, resulting in multiple fatal shootings. He makes an unfavourable comparison with Montreal’s more progressive police service when dealing with people in mental health crises, citing examples which “proved that police often do put their lives on the line, and can do so without needlessly jeopardizing the lives of the people they serve.”

The Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, http://www.tpac.ca, goes even further in its Bulletin No. 95 of March 21 this year. Noting not only the number of police shootings, plus the budgeting for a “substantial number of new weapons”, and the increasing use of CEW weapons (tasers), the TPAC concluded that “it is time to talk seriously of taking weapons out of the hands of rank and file constables.”

One telling observation came out of the trial of Constable James Forcillo, who was convicted of attempted murder in the death of Sammy Yatim, one of Toronto’s more infamous police shootings. Sammy Yatim died on an empty Toronto streetcar on the evening of July 27, 2013. He was in mental distress and carrying a small knife when confronted by several police officers at a distance who were outside the vehicle.

One, James Forcillo, fired nine rounds within seconds of coming on the scene, hitting his target eight times. The first three shots were fatal, the other five were for what, “good measure”? Not only that, another officer subsequently tasered the prone and almost dead man.

After the trial, CBC’s Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway briefly spoke with a British police officer who had reviewed the evidence. Under similar circumstances in Britain, he said, the police there would probably not have deployed weapons.

The police in Britain would probably not have deployed weapons.

Toronto police – mercenaries?

Why shouldn’t the police who patrol our neighbourhoods live where we do, or at least in the same communities?

And, why do our police officers ‘cocoon’ in their cars, isolating themselves further from the people they “serve and protect”.

This has been on our radar for decades, but it’s recently come to the front burner in the United States where tensions between police and racial groups draws attention to the demographic composition of police departments across the country.

Now, the Toronto Star’s Betsy Powell brings this issue home with, “Many new cops don’t live in Toronto”, from the paper’s Friday, February 12 edition. And, there is no difference in Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary and other Canadian cities.

Peter Sloly, a former Toronto deputy chief, estimated that 80 to 85 per cent of Toronto’s cops don’t live in the city. Only 21 of 44 recent recruits call Toronto home. Police union leaders claim Toronto is too expensive for many on the force, but this argument ignores that today’s police earn a lot more than the average Torontonian.

“I think you can be committed to a neighbourhood, committed to community safety, do your job, and sleep somewhere else,” is how former Toronto police chief Bill Blair defended an out-of-town workforce.

But, Mariana Valverde, a criminologist at the University of Toronto disagrees. “Where you live and what you think of a good place to live, does have a bearing on how you do your job as a police officer. We care more about people who live like us…..it’s basic psychology.” She believes this should be included in the debate around police reform and our perspective for controlling the force’s $1-billion budget.

A tempest in a teapot? How many teapots make a cyclone?