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Toronto’s Troubled Police Force is Becoming Even Less Accountable Under New Chief

The police are expecting us to trust in a broken and nearly immutable process.
July 17, 2015, 7:38pm

New Toronto police chief Mark Saunders. Same Toronto police attitude. The Canadian Press

The Mark Saunders era of policing in Toronto is not far out of step with its predecessors, but it is quickly coming into its own. The day before the Toronto Police Service Board held its scheduled meeting on Thursday, Toronto Police declined to lay charges in the killing of Donny Ouimette and Ryan Hind. The two men were shot to death by another man wearing a GardaWorld uniform at an east-end McDonald's in February. Public knowledge of the shooting is unclear other than that a fight broke out, the guard drew his weapon, and Ouimette and Hind died shortly thereafter. We don't know why the guard needed to draw his weapon, or why he needed to be armed for a walk-up order at all. These questions were asked, of course, but Saunders' vision of policing does not involve answering to the public. So far, it seems his communications strategy is to politely ask us to shut up and fuck off.

After completing their investigation, the Toronto Police Service decided to release no footage of the McDonald's incident, nor discuss any details about the shooting, nor opt to do anything besides to kick the can down the road. Chief Saunders, consuming much oxygen to convey almost no information of value, told reporters "(There) is the potential for the coroner's office to do something, to have a public inquiry." If such an inquest were to happen, by the way, it could take years before those details are made public. Saunders, also added, "(There) was a very thorough investigation by very highly trained officers working with other agencies, and at the end of it, the conclusion was there wasn't enough evidence, and that was very public."

In other words, the public only has a right to know what our police decide to tell us.

Thursday's Police Services Board meeting was interrupted by protesters demanding an apology for the Toronto police's killing of Andrew Loku. Loku, a resident of Sudanese origin, was involved in an altercation with his upstairs neighbour, and armed with a hammer. Witnesses claimed that Loku, while emotionally distressed, was beginning to calm down when two police officers arrived. Within minutes, those officers shot and killed Loku in front of shocked neighbours.

The protesters at Thursday's meeting, in unison, read a list of demands and grievances, including monetary compensation for Loku's family, and an inquiry into whether proper action has been taken against officers who use force against black people experiencing mental health issues. The complaint has merit; Torontonians of colour make up a disproportionate number of the people whose lives are cut short by police.

After dispensing with the list and the increasingly disprovable "Black Lives Matter" chant, the protesters had a brief exchange with members of the board. Mayor John Tory repeated his line that it is a "profound tragedy" whenever someone dealing with mental illness loses their life, and Board Chair Alok Mukherjee emphasized that the Police Service is working to prevent deaths like Loku's in the future. No one seems willing to speak at length on Loku's death until the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) completes its work. That very same SIU, tasked with handling investigations into police incidents where someone is injured or dies, has often been hamstrung by the Attorney General, and rarely ever recommends charges against officers.

In the meantime, whatever became of the officer who shot Loku, or even the officer's name, is not knowledge entrusted to the public. When the Black Lives Matter protesters left quietly and peacefully, the board resumed its tedious business: managing the affairs of an organization operating with an almost inalienable right to harass, assault, and kill Torontonians without consequence.

Shut up and fuck off indeed.

This is, as Canadian activist Valerie Steele once described it, the hamster wheel of holding our police to account. Names of the dead—Edmond Yu, Michael Eligon, Sammy Yatim—roll off our tongues until the police convert another body into public anguish. Independent reviews are conducted, third-party organizations are formed, recommendations are handed down by eminent jurists, and none of that makes a lick of difference when Andrew Loku's lifeblood spills over the tiled floor of his apartment building.

Without a highly visible outcry that shames the Board into adopting changes, the work done by police to increase transparency and reduce fatal encounters often amount to half-baked and widely criticized measures. And even the best of those measures (for example, working to de-escalate an encounter rather than shouting "Drop the weapon" seconds before opening fire) are promptly thrown out at officers' discretion, and without consequence.

In the Saunders era of policing, when the public asks for answers, the only expected response is a plea for trust in a broken and nearly immutable process. That process not only shields police from public accountability, but apparently does the same for others that police deem worthy of protection. At this point, regarding the relationship between Toronto's police service and the public it supposedly serves, it's becoming clear who manages whom.

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