Monday, September 2, 2013

The Problem With The Police Starts At The Top

Leadership is a word that evokes many associations; strength, vision, determination and resolve are a few of the positive ones. Selfishness, careerism, expediency and cowardice are but a few of many negative associations. In my own working life, I had perhaps three administrators I looked up to, the ones who put the good of education above personal ambition, pettiness and self-centreness. They were people I would have done anything for.

The rest I merely endured because I had no choice.

As I have often written in this blog, I see Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair as a failed leader, one who must bear a large portion of the responsibility for the democratic debacle of the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto and its aftermath, which saw virtually no consequences for the massive and widespread police abuse of charter rights. In my view, Blair should have been fired afterwards. Sadly, the effects of his failed leadership, like poison dropped in a reservoir, continues to ripple outward, affecting those he 'commands'.

An exceptionally well-crafted letter in today's Toronto Star by Rick Owens of Toronto explains why:

Re: SIU head blasts Toronto police chief for co-operation failures, Aug. 29

That Toronto police Chief Bill Blair is not directly accountable to the SIU is clear in law. But that is not the issue. What is at issue here is whether the chief ought to have the courtesy to respond directly to a legally mandated body that investigates matters involving the consequences of the use of force by his staff. Courtesy or rather the problem with discourtesy is the issue here.

I can recall no time in the last 40 years when regard for the police in Toronto was this low and widespread. Whether it’s the G20 fiasco, the series of charges and allegations about dishonesty in court or outrageous misjudgments such as the Sammy Yatim shooting, some police in Toronto have done much to undermine the credibility of and trust in the Toronto Police Service. And it is the sort of defiance and fundamental discourtesy that the chief demonstrated in this matter that seem to be the common theme across the past decade.

That Blair feels no need to be even remotely courteous to Ian Scott is akin to the disregard by some police to the rights of citizens or their own responsibility to abide by the law. One recent example of this disregard is the officer who parked his personal car illegally while on a paid duty assignment. All he had to do was put a police vest on his dash and he was exempt from paying the fees that every other private vehicle is required to pay. That was his expectation; it’s not the law. This is at best a discourtesy to those of us who abide by the law and pay the penalties when we don’t. At its worst, it is quite simply corruption. But why should that officer think he’s accountable to the rest of us if his chief doesn’t think he is?

The chief sets both the tone and example for the thousands of women and men in his (our) employ, and his response to Scott was most certainly the wrong one. The police service has a lot of work ahead of it in repairing its image and relationships with the people it serves and to whom it is accountable. This was a step back. It is my (admittedly distant) hope that the Police Services Board will hold him to account on this matter.


  1. Lorne, it goes much higher than police chief. It is the leader Steve that police takes the cues from and acts accordingly. During G8 and G20 it is Harper who ordered the police to provide the intensive and extensive security. In the name of security police carried out a lot of brutality and got away with it. That set the example for them and we are seeing the consequences.

    Many sociological studies have shown that what top leaders do trickles down to others in the society. Our great leader Steve is setting quite a few examples. It is like parents being role-model for their children.

    1. I agree, LeDaro, that Dear Leader bears the ultimate responsibility for what happened. However, one of the things that Chief Blair and Premier Dalton McGuinty conspired to conceal was the fact that the so-called 'five-metre' fence rule that was used to search bags and arrest those who refused to identify themselves was in fact a fiction. Blair admitted his deception in an unguarded moment during a news conference, saying that he wanted to 'catch some bad guys' as his reason for not revealing the truth. Coupled with his inaction on the violation of people's basic rights, this seems more than enough reason to have terminated his employment.