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Retired judge John Morden speaks about his report on the role of civilian oversight in policing the G20 summit in Toronto on Friday, June 29, 2012. (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)
Retired judge John Morden speaks about his report on the role of civilian oversight in policing the G20 summit in Toronto on Friday, June 29, 2012. (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

Michael Kempa

Civilian oversight bodies must pierce police silence Add to ...

The independent review into the policing of the G20 event in Toronto in the summer of 2010 was delivered by John Morden late last week – and it is damning.

The report criticizes the Toronto Police Services Board for a fundamental misunderstanding of its responsibilities – and incomprehension of the legal means and political levers available to it – for securing well-functioning and democratic policing in the municipality of Toronto.

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In the planning period leading up to the G20 summit, and in the aftermath of that violent weekend, the board apparently considered that it was responsible and empowered to ask only the broadest policy questions, and not to proactively shape and hold police operations to the standards of best practice and the public interest.

Thus the legally mandated role of the board in creating space for the concerns of the citizens of Toronto in the planning and aftermath of the G20 weekend was swamped in the frenetic activity of the federal and provincial governments, the RCMP, the OPP and contracted private security “experts” who ran the show in the interests of governments committed to the expansion of global commerce and security.

As such, the report has provoked yet another wave of public consternation, and, very often, anger, about what went wrong that terrible June weekend.

In the wake of troubling reports produced by a chorus of provincial and federal oversight bodies, different segments of the public voice have called for a series of heads to roll: Fire the chief for allegedly being too tight with planning information and for yielding control over the event to the mysterious and largely unaccountable federal security apparatus; throw the book at the federal government for forcing this event on Toronto with what was patently too little time to properly plan; and, now, two years after the event, indict the Police Services Board for apparently asking insufficient and weak questions and making too few suggestions to represent the public interest.

Mr. Morden’s report must be read in an international context: In Britain, Australia, the United States, and across Canada, civilian oversight bodies have only rarely succeeded in piercing police silence on operational matters.

These bodies have been partly frustrated by chiefs who have at times aggressively insisted that board members stick to the weakest possible interpretation of their roles as broad policy organs. Even more important, these boards have not been equipped with the legal expertise and resources necessary to undertake the broadest interpretation of their role as active participants in shaping and reviewing police operations, which Mr. Morden rightly advocates.

More than an indictment of the failings of the Toronto Police Services Board, Mr. Morden explodes the tendency of Western governments everywhere to treat the civilian governance of policing as an afterthought to the core of the public policing service, rather than as an integral part of a well-run and effective policing system.

Spending more on proper police governance will achieve advances and efficiencies in the delivery of policing and inspire public co-operation and support. It is money well spent.

A tough, deliberative process to shape all aspects of policing, such as that outlined by Mr. Morden, is essential for promoting public consensus in an increasingly diverse state where citizens hold diverging views on what “security” means. In the context of an uncertain social and economic future, the right answers to our collective security puzzles are far more likely to be discussed and negotiated than designed behind closed doors by isolated “experts.”

Mr. Morden provides the blueprint. Boards and chiefs must follow up with the will to engage a sea change in their relationship. Governments must provide the right legislation and startup funding until the return on investment for advanced policing governance rolls in.

For our part, the public must continue to ensure that our voices are heard at mass events to remind politicians that their maps for global commerce and security are for all of us.

Michael Kempa is an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa.

 

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