Police Defunding and Accountability

Dear Friends,

This past week, Council dealt with several policing issues and a motion to “defund” Toronto Police by 10%. In previous newsletters, I elaborated on why, on a close decision, I would not be supporting that exact cut right now. I thought a detailed explanation would show respect for those fighting inequality and demanding new and better ways of handling community safety.

While I believe firmly in the principal of reallocating police funding, the way the motion was presented to Council had several problems:

  1. The 10% cut was totally arbitrary, without any analysis of whether this was legally achievable.

  2. If Council had attempted an arbitrary cut done in this manner, Toronto’s Police Chief would have appealed it, likely successfully, to a provincial body. That’s provincial law.

  3. Under any circumstances, City Council has no ability to tell Police how to spend whatever money they get from the City. That’s provincial law.

  4. Currently, to actually change how policing is done, almost all of the following need to be onside:  the Mayor and City Council, the Toronto Police Services Board, the Chief of Police, the Premier of Ontario, the police union, and the population at large. A punitive cut would have eliminated that possibility.

  5. Many people did not understand that the Police Budget was not before Council this week. That doesn’t happen until February 2021, at which time all the information about how to bring about change should be before us. By then, it should also be clear whether there is a co-operative effort to bring about real change. This hasn’t happened before, so I am skeptical that it will happen now. If it isn’t underway by February, that would be the time to try to impose a 10% redirection of the police budget, done in a careful and responsible way.

What Council did pass was a large number of motions from the Mayor and members of Council. A few set the stage for immediate reforms; most just called for change because, like it or not (and I really don’t), change rests largely with the Province.My three amendments, all of which passed unanimously, dealt with the following:

Role of Toronto’s Auditor General

The federal and provincial Auditors General have open access to the RCMP and OPP respectively. But right now, Toronto’s Auditor General can’t look at Toronto Police operations unless she’s invited in – and that has been repeatedly resisted. My motion calls on the Province to change its legislation and, in the meantime, creates a situation whereby the Police Services Board will provide open access until that happens. She’ll be able to find savings that can be spent elsewhere, and she can also examine systemic issues in the system.

Immediate Penalties for Police Misconduct

A member of the Toronto Police Service cannot be suspended without pay or fired until they are unable to perform their job because they are in jail. I kid you not. It’s a Provincial rule. The officer convicted in the Defonte Miller case, for example, is still employed on full salary because he hasn’t been jailed.

The previous provincial government changed this rule to give police chiefs the right to fire officers engaged in misconduct, or suspend them without pay – but when Doug Ford got elected, he changed it back. Council wants chiefs of police to be able to get bad employees off the payroll.

Investigating Police Misconduct

Some 85% of allegations of police misconduct are currently investigated by police. That produces the type of results one would expect. I intend no disrespect for police officers; I wouldn’t want politicians investigating alleged misconduct by their colleagues either.

The previous provincial government brought in an independent investigative process. Doug Ford got rid of that too. Council wants independent investigations.

– John