Friday, August 9, 2013

Police Power - UPATED

While the title of this post may seem a bit of a tautology, since the power of police on the streets is obvious, there are other arenas where they wield their influence in ways that may not be consistent with an open and democratic society.

For example, police are known to arrive at courtrooms en masse when one of their own is under judicial scrutiny. An egregious example occurred earlier this year when both a criminal lawyer and her client allege intimidation occurred during the trial of Raymond Costain on charges of impaired driving and assault to resist arrest; these charges followed Costain's severe beating by police in an episode captured on video:

Leora Shemesh, defence lawyer for Raymond Costain, tells a tale of what can only be described as collective police intimidation:

Shemesh said officers showed up en masse at court, surrounded her and Costain in an elevator, followed her to her car after a hearing and even took cellphone pictures of her in the courthouse.

The judge, Ford Clements, eventually tossed out the charges against Costain, but also experienced some truculence at the hands of the police"

When the camera incident was raised in court, it caused such an uproar it almost brought the case to a halt, she said.

The officer who took the picture was put on the witness stand and refused to show the judge his cellphone to prove he had not taken the picture. Shemesh said it so enraged the judge that he raised his voice with the officer before ordering him out of the courtroom, raising questions about whether the judge should recuse himself.

Yet police muscle extends far beyond the street and the courtroom. In response to Durham Police Detective Dennis Scott's attempt yesterday to intimidate Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin via Twitter, The Star's Rosie Dimanno has a column today that reveals something truly chilling about the 'long arm of the law." It is an arm that reaches into the very heart of our democracy, our government, revealed in the latter's reaction to Marin's proposal, in 2011, that the SIU (Special Investigations Unit) be taken out of the Police Services Act so it can operate as an entirely independent body:

“Take the SIU out of the PSA, with consequences for failure to co-operate. If you don’t co-operate with the SIU, you face prosecution — that simple.” This, of course, would not apply to subject officers, who would retain the right to silence shared by civilians.

In Marin's view, that would end the frequent roadblocks to investigations of the police, who frequently simply refuse to co-operate with any probes conducted by the SIU under its current legislative configuration.

The reaction of the Ontario government to this proposal? An internal Ministry of the Attorney General briefing note is telling:

“As you know, the decision was made at the time of the Report’s release that — largely due to vehement police opposition — we will not be considering the recommended legislative changes in the near term.

The note goes on:

“At some point, we may have to communicate that we will not be legislating, however that time is not now. Marin typically does not conduct any public communications regarding ‘report-backs’ — he usually gets his media hit off report releases and then moves on. We need not be overly concerned that he will criticize us on the basis of this letter.”

The motto of the Toronto Police Force, and many others, is To Serve and Protect. Perhaps it is time for civilians to ask to whom this motto is really meant to apply.

UPDATE: Many thanks to ThinkingManNeil for pointing out the following video entitled Cherry Beach, the reference, as explained here, being as follows:

The song is about local lore of how the Toronto police used Cherry Beach as a location to beat suspects. The police tried to have the song banned.[5] Hardcore punk band Career Suicide also references the slang phrase "Cherry Beach express" (referring to the supposed police practice) in their song "Cherry Beach".


  1. That is chilling. As I recall, the radicalization of the Toronto Police Union began in the 80s and has worsened ever since. Weak politicians have succumbed to their intimidation and pressures when they needed to step hard on these characters. The courts deserve blame too. Many years ago Eddy Greenspan wrote a book,"Case for the Defence," that focused on cops getting caught giving blatantly fabricated evidence under oath in trials. This was wanton perjury, perversion of justice - and it almost always goes unpunished. The courts don't go after them, the Crown doesn't prosecute them, their political masters look the other way and their police command does the same.

    1. I think your last sentence sums up why the problem of police abuse of their authority is getting worse, Mound. They have essentially received a message of impunity from all the bodies that should be keeping them in check.

      In the Toronto force, as I think I have indicated elsewhere, the problem was aggravated by the way they were allowed to run amok during the 2010 G20 Summit, and ultimately faced no real sanctions after their needless detention of over 1100 citizens, many of whom weren't even involved in the protests.

      The mythology surrounding the police also doesn't help. When one of their own dies on the job, whether through a car accident or at the hands of a criminal (an exceedingly rare event in Canada), they come out in droves for public mourning, or what my friend Dom likes to refer to as 'police porn.'

  2. Lorne, this guy is a bit crazy but he really hates police. You may consider to check his blog.

    1. Thanks, LeDaro. i will check him out.

  3. Remember this one?

    It used to be that the cops despised the punks, gay, and homeless. Now, since the G20 (or perhaps even further back to 9/11) the despise everyone, even the law they're supposed to uphold...


    1. Many thanks for the link, Neil. I shall update this post with the video with an explanation of the Cherry Beach allusion.