John on Police Accountability

For the past 1,103 days the Toronto police officer convicted of assaulting Dafonte Miller has been at home collecting full salary.

To summarize the judge’s findings in what has come to be known as the Dafonte Miller case, although he was not the one on trial: Michael Theriault, an off duty Toronto police officer, chased and beat Miller, who he believed was trying to break into a car in Theriault’s driveway; Miller, 19 and black, was beaten so badly that he lost an eye; Michael Theriault was convicted of assault, and found not guilty of aggravated assault.

Much has already been said about whether justice was served by the judge’s decision, or how likely it is that Miller would have received the same treatment if he were white, or why it took four months for the Special Investigative Unit to be called in and longer still for Theriault to be charged.

But I’m using this case as an example of something else that rarely gets attention: it is next to impossible to suspend a police officer without pay, for virtually any misconduct, unless they have first been convicted and sent to jail.

To quote the applicable section of the Police Services Act 89(6), a Chief of Police can suspend without pay if an officer has been “convicted of an offence and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.”  Otherwise, the paychecks keep rolling. In Theriault’s case, that’s approximately $300,000 and counting.

Police Chiefs across Ontario have asked the Province for years to change this legislation, giving them the type of authority and accountability the public would expect.  The previous provincial government did change it, but then the current government changed it back.

This isn’t about whether police officers are either more or less likely to engage in misconduct than any other category of public employee. But imagine the howls of public outrage if city bureaucrats charged with wrongdoing stayed on the payroll unless and until they went to jail.

It’s a mystery to me why there aren’t more howls here. Perhaps it’s because few members of the public know about it.

At its last meeting, Council unanimously adopted my motion calling on the Province to change this law. The response has been silence. Nothing in the media, nothing from those demanding that police resources be redirected, nothing from anyone concerned about abuse of tax dollars. And, thus far, nothing from the Province.

Typically, my advocacy relates to issues that are top of mind with residents. But I’m not doing my job unless I also take action on issues that reach far beyond Willowdale’s boundaries.

Residents often think that provincial politicians listen to what city politicians say. They don’t, not unless you’re telling them the same thing. So if you care this issue, let them know.