Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chief Bill Blair And Secrecy

Presiding as he does over a very troubled organization, it is perhaps not surprising that Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair prefers a cloak of secrecy to cover how he manages his force. But it is difficult to see whose interests, other than those of the good chief, are served by refusing to share with the public how he deals with his officers when they abuse citizens.

One of the first casualties of this refusal to shed light is surely public trust, a fact attested to by letters to The Star, one of which you can read below:

Re: Cops used ‘torture’ to get confession, top court rules, Dec. 13

Thanks to the Star for reporting on the sickening story of police brutality. Torture is a crime; police are not authorized to use force to obtain “confessions.” Charges are supposed to rely on evidence of criminal activity by the suspects, not by the police.

We pay the police to uphold the laws of our society, which include our civil and human rights. When police impunity is such that police believe that brutalizing people (and telling them to lie) is “part of the job”, it’s (past) time for our governments and courts to start to protect Canadian rights.

They might start by giving the SIU real teeth; police should be forced to respond promptly and honestly to SIU requests for information. There were many police who violated police rules and the rights of Canadians at the G20 several years ago, yet only one or two seem to have been called to account. Every one of the police identified as having broken any rules (such as not wearing proper identification) should have been punished appropriately. The courts should make the police fully accountable for violations of people’s rights. The police violations of Canadian human and civil rights should no longer be tolerated.

Karin Brothers, Toronto

The general public is not the only segment harbouring grave misgivings about those who 'serve and protect.' A hard hitting Star editorial in this morning's edition, entitled Toronto police secrecy undermines public trust, makes clear that the chief's evasions and subterfuge have no place in a democracy:

Undue secrecy when police investigate their own only saps public confidence that justice is done when an officer breaks the law. For that reason, if no other, Toronto’s police board should reveal reports that Chief Bill Blair prefers to keep hidden.

The reports refer to a specific offence allegedly committed by Toronto police: failure to co-operate with Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, the outside agency summoned whenever police are involved in a fatality or serious injury, or are accused of sexual assault.

The editorial goes on to observe that while Blair asserts that he has investigated all of the concerns brought forward by the SIU, he insists they remain confidential, only to be shared with the Toronto Police Services Board. Not even the SIU is privy to what he claims to have done. This stands in stark contrast to other police services that make the result of investigations public, excising only the most confidential information.

So who is Blair really protecting here?

There are many reasons I am glad not to be a resident of Toronto; the fact that it has a largely unaccountable police force led by a man who seems contemptuous of the public is among my chief ones.

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