Sunday, December 29, 2013

Another Indictment Of Police Leadership

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am a regular critic of the police. While recognizing the at-times difficult job they have and the very real potential of becoming jaded because of the criminal element with which they must deal, I have never had any sympathy, understanding or tolerance for the abuse of power that some regularly engage in.

Similarly, I am frequently offended by those who lead institutions but refuse to take responsibility for the dysfunctions that occur under their watch. We have, for example, Stephen Harper's declarations that he knew nothing about the Nigel Wright payoff of Mile Duffy; while I do not believe the Prime Minister, even if it were true, responsibility, and blame, as they say, resides at the top.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, about whom I have written many times, strikes me as one who enjoys the perks of power but refuses to accept responsibility when things go wrong with his troubled force. The G20 debacle is probably the most egregious, but hardly the only example of his failure as chief.

A story in this morning's Star offers the most recent indictment of Blair's leadership. The Supreme Court made a definitive ruling on police strip searches in 2001, forbidding the authorities to strip their suspects completely naked, declaring it a breach of Charter Rights. Despite this, however, Toronto Const. Sasa Sljivo declared during the trial of Lerondo Smith, charged with drug trafficking and breaching conditions ... that he has stripped “hundreds” of people completely naked as part of routine searches.

Two things are striking about this admission. First, Sljivo averred in court that he was unaware of the Supreme Court ruling, and second, he told the court that he was trained by his coach officer, a police mentor, to strip-search people fully naked.

The story goes on to say Toronto police adopted those rules (i.e., the prohibition laid out by the Supreme Court) in its procedure information sheet regarding “searches of person.”

My questions are few and simple:

If the rules have been clearly set out by the Toronto police, how is it that Const. Sljivo has carried out hundreds of improper searches, apparently endorsed by his training officer?

Does the Toronto constabulary regard the Supreme Court ruling as one more honoured in the breach than in the observance?

What kind of environment has the 'leadership' of Chief Blair fostered that this could happen not once, not twice, but hundreds of time?

How many others engage in this illegal practice?

Predictably, questions sent to police spokesman Mark Pugash about the pervasiveness of these searches and whether anyone has ever been disciplined for conducting them went unanswered.

Stripping prisoners naked is a time-honoured practice of torturers to break people down. It has no place in a democracy. Chief Blair has some serious police misconduct to answer for.


  1. One of the marks of our time, Lorne, is that our public officials do not value the positions of trust in which they have been placed.

    1. So sadly true, Owen, much to the overall detriment of our democracy.

  2. I'll guarantee, Lorne, that he had plenty of backup when he did every one of those strip searches. Why did none of them intervene? Why did none of them report him? Then again those are the inevitable questions we ask of cops when one of them crosses the line. When the cops become a gang of thugs, as the Toronto cops keep revealing, it's time to clean house from the top down. There have been a few instances where that had to happen in American cities. Some times it works. Every officer in this character's chain of command should, at the very least, have to justify why they deserve to retain their rank - or job.

    1. And yet strangely enough, Mound, one never hears people in positions of authority question the wisdom of having Blair continue as chief. In many ways, and Toronto is hardly unique in this, the Police Services Board seems to have a faulty understanding of its role. It is supposed to exist to supervise and regulate police conduct, not enable abuses of authority.