Monday, December 13, 2010

Blair, the Toronto Police Service, and the G20

Growing up, the Toronto Police (or in those days the Metropolitan Toronto Police) were the friendly officers who helped us kids cross the road after school, the ones who kept speeders from ending up on our lawns, the men who came into class to talk about road safety. But then things changed, and I became disillusioned about who the cops were really serving and protecting.

The events around the G20 have served to change disillusionment into disappointment at what our top cops have turned themselves into. Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is a big reason for that. Ever since my twenties, I have maintained that the top dog wags the organization. And how goes Blair, so goes the rank and file.

Blair asked the Ontario Liberal government to amend very old legislation, that was originally drawn up for wartime purposes, to include parts of Toronto not officially deemed public works so as to pretty much allow martial law in Toronto. Whether that was only to be within 5m of "the fence" is a moot point as the communist-authoritarian tactics of demanding ID from a citizen, even ones not in the protests, also happened far from "the fence." And the idea that only two arrests means it wasn't that big a deal avoids the fact that hundreds were detained, contrary to the way a democracy is supposed to operate, Of course, Blair is not the only one complicit in bringing a police regime to downtown Toronto, for Premier McGuinty could've, should have, said no.

Then 91 officers decided to hide their name badges. Apparently, no one reported them to their supervisors or cared enough to order the badges back on, despite it being a punishable offence within the police force. That's the point of the thin blue line: protect the thugs. And I guess, they figured that no one would be able to ID them without their badges and with riot helmets on, despite the plethora of photo- and video- taking phones and cameras around. Clearly, these officers attended their duties of serving and protecting the public with the intent to show these uppity, protesting masses who has the power. And they wielded that power violently sans compunction, whether in badge-less uniform or street clothes, as in Nobody's case. Blair found and punished these miscreants, with a whopping one-day loss of pay. To my mind, that's a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, kind of punishment, where technically Blair can say he penalized the bad apples but the fine was so small that he essentially endorsed their cowardly, brutal tactics, the kind police states use to keep the populace in line. Worse, The Toronto Star had to find the evidence he said he needed to charge the cops who beat up Nobody, as well as a National Post photographer. He was unable or unwilling to do it himself. Makes one wonder how competent our cops are.

Blair hopes this has not tarnished the reputation of the Toronto Police Service. Who is he kidding? Toronto has the lowest per capita crime rate in the country; most Torontonians are law abiding. Toronto protesters are highly unlikely to cause a fracas on the level one sees in Montreal. The Toronto Police knew they could identify the bad guys by the fact they'd be in head-to-toe black and in shop or financial districts where lots of lovely glass was available to break. Yet they approached the protests in a bizarre under- then over-reaction, ending up attacking the peaceful protesters while they stayed away from where the blackguards were.

The police certainly should've had an effective strategy in place to round these jerks up sans assaulting innocent protestors; modern policing is no longer just about billy clubs but using the little grey cells to out-strategize the criminals. And though Prime Minister Harper set Toronto up for costly mayhem, our cops did not need to rely solely on their own expertise. Given the short time period to prepare, did they not shortcut the curve by learning from other forces in Ontario, Canada, other provinces, and the US?

However, the fundamental approach to Torontonians at the G20, and now hearing about how they no longer keep data on strip searches despite saying they would, in response to a Supreme Court ruling on such searches, I have to wonder if our cops see us as all criminals. I wonder if most of our cops live outside Toronto and so their only interaction with Torontonians is with criminals. As my mother said, working as a nurse on the leukemia ward where most die, your thinking becomes skewed to the idea that all people who enter hospital die, which is not true. We extrapolate our specific experiences to the general. So cops living outside Toronto would develop the kind of attitude to the general populace as being all a bunch of criminals, so evident during the G20.

Blair wants to resuscitate the police reputation? He has to kick out of the force those who ripped off their name badges to show us that their attitude is not that of the force as a whole. He has to charge those who beat up Torontonians who were there solely to protest - which in Canada is a legal activity. He has to apologise profusely to the entire city for asking for that amendment, and McGuinty must be beside him to also execute his mea cuplas for agreeing to it, lawyers be damned. And then he has to institute a program to educate Toronto cops that Torontonians are not all criminals who need to be billy clubbed into submission.

Lastly, Blair has to understand that as long as the thin blue line protects the bad cops, the entire force will be tarnished with their stink. The thin blue line must change to protect the good cops and us from the bad uns.

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