Monday, August 12, 2013

Calling in O’Connor a slick political move by Toronto Police chief Bill Blair

That was a slick and brilliant political move by Chief Bill Blair.

By announcing the hiring of retired Justice Dennis O’Connor to probe “use of force” and death in police hands of “emotionally disturbed people” he has got out ahead of three looming reviews.

One will come from Ombudsman Andre Marin, who vigorously announced he will investigate use of force and made no bones about how upset he is with the fact so many have died.

The second is a upcoming coroner’s inquest into the police shooting deaths of three people who were said to be considered mental health calls.

The third, and perhaps biggest elephant in the room, is the upcoming ruling from the Special investigations Unit in the streetcar shooting death of Sammy Yatim.

If they do lay a charge, it would be the second on a TPS officer in a shooting death in recent time.
The chief taking outside action from a man of integrity like O’Connor is a rare move and a positive one.

But after the deaths of Reyal Jardine-Douglas, 25; Sylvia Klibingaitis, 52; and Michael Eligon, 29 — all shot by Toronto police officers — he had to do something.

Blair was good to his word in his statement after Sammy Yatim’s shooting that he aims to do something meaningful to address this.

In many ways, Monday’s announcement was an acknowledgment that the status quo, and perhaps the equipment and engagement style, needs to be modernized.

O’Connor, in the Walkerton and Arar inquiries, has shown he won’t hold back on making abrupt and uncomfortable criticisms and suggestions.

Smart of Blair to get out ahead of all of it.

He will be able to point to his action as an example doing something.

However, we will need to see the terms and scope before we know for sure if another probe will have any teeth.

The fourth authority Blair has to be concerned about is the public — many of whom fall into the category of being pro-police but also against lethal force against troubled people if there are other options.

There have been many reviews of use of force and recommendations in the past, so it seemed unusual it would be the chief who would call in a judge and not the Toronto Police Services Board.

But Chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee supports the chief’s approach and did not feel he went around the board.

“Not at all,”he said. “Under the Police Service Act, section 11, whenever there is an SIU investigation, the Chief is required to cause an administrative investigation to occur that looks into policies, procedures, training and conduct involved in the incident.”

Mukherjee said with the public cynical about another internal police review, this was a better way to go and within the chief’s purview.

“The Act gives that responsibility to the Chief, and he reports the results of his review to the Board. The Board then decides what, if any, action is required,” he said. “The Board also has the option to make the Chief’s report public if it so determines.”

The cost of hiring the highly regarded O’Connor will also be made public.

Justice John Mordin’s report on the G20 cost in excess of $1 million. But, said Mukherjee, if it saves lives it’s money well spent.

“The public needs to have confidence in policing,” he said, adding the public also needs to know police “will be held to account.”

In the end, the chief’s move here, while politically prudent, is also vital and wise because so many people dying in these calls is not tolerable.
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