Chief on shaky ground

It took a firm push by Special Investigation Unit Director Ian Scott for proof before Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair apologized last week for his comments that a videotape showing police beating a G20 protester was doctored. But after the appalling handling of the G20 security and the now infamous abuse of authority that saw some 1,000 people arrested or detained in horrendous conditions on the weekend of the summit in downtown Toronto, is his apology enough?

And did it have to take a series of columns by Joe Warmington in the Toronto Sun (among others) and lawyer Julian Falconer’s strong advocacy, questioning Blair’s statement about tampering of the YouTube video used as evidence by the SIU as they looked into the case of a badly beaten Adam Nobody to bring Blair’s turnaround? You know the Chief has to be really off track when even the pro-cop Sun slams his actions.

Now a new video shows clearly the face of at least one officer (wearing what looks like a Toronto police crest) who beat Nobody. Will the Chief order the officer to man up and take responsibility for his actions, as well as name others involved?

Earlier, the SIU found clear cases of police brutality during the G20 but no officer has been charged since the SIU concluded that no officers could be identified. So many officers had removed their nametags that we have to speculate what their intent was in the first place going into the now tarnished G20 security maneuvers.

In the case of Nobody, no doubt other officers know who the six officers are that put the boots to him while he lay on the ground, but the code of silence is in effect. The same behaviour that the police so decry when a violent criminal in our community is protected by those who refuse to ‘snitch’ is proving most effective in covering the abuses of those who went outside the bounds of legal police behaviour at the end of June in downtown Toronto.

While Chief Blair holds firm on maintaining that his officers essentially did nothing wrong, the effect is that local confidence in the integrity of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) has been shaken because those who broke the law in uniform have so far gotten away with it. We call on the Police Chief to assure the public that the officers who violated the public trust will be made to take responsibility for their actions. That means not only the frontline officers but also their superiors who gave the orders, because security management of the G20 event in Toronto was at best uneven.

We also note the stated intent of Toronto police to buy 52 of the G20 surveillance cameras and to set them up in such places as the downtown club district. They will be able to buy the cameras from Ottawa at half-price. We understand the need to implement more street surveillance. So yes, we could go along with the installation of more cameras as a good thing. But where do we draw the line when it comes to being under the watch of ‘Big Brother’?

The objections from civil libertarians about too much government control are beginning to resonate with many more of us. We have to ask when are the eyes of the state on us enough and when does it become too much? For there is also the matter that such installments rob everyday people of a certain sense of public freedom. That is, the freedom not to have our every move recorded by the authorities.

The G20 weekend is evidence enough of what can happen when those with authority have free rein.

TPS also wants to buy other enforcement equipment left over from the summit such as those helmets, gas masks, eye shields and sound-cannons. Why? Are we expecting increased civilian unrest? Are the police anticipating a civil shift the rest of us are not yet aware of?

Cameras may not be such a bad idea, but we cannot support the purchase of sound cannons, for example. Moreover, if newly installed mayor Rob Ford is about cutting spending how would this extra expense be justified? We don’t hold G20 summits here on a regular basis.

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