The Toronto police seemed as ill-prepared for the release of a report on police conduct during the G20 protests two years ago as they were for the protests themselves. Police Chief Bill Blair has not apologized for his own failings and those of the officers under his command. More than that, he failed to embrace the recommendations of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
Mr. Blair’s response, a grudging concession that things could have been handled better, is a surprising miscalculation. He needed to show he is in command. His attempt to soft-pedal the findings will not succeed in dampening criticism of police actions, or the calls for heads to roll. On the contrary, it will raise pressure on Mr. Blair and the Toronto Police Service, because it suggests they have learned little over the past two years.
The report itself is a savage indictment of police actions on June 26-27, 2010, saying some officers ignored the Charter rights of citizens, used excessive force, and took “unreasonable, unnecessary and unlawful” actions. These are very serious findings, and they are yet more damaging because they are properly presented in the context of the challenge facing authorities confronted by wanton violence, vandalism and destruction by a group of self-righteous hooligans.
It is worth remembering that the police faced criticism when they initially seemed to cede ground to those bent on destruction, and Torontonians and other Canadians were treated to the sight of burning police cruisers and broken store windows. Police had a duty to respond, and when they did, the vast majority carried out that duty in a professional manner and should be commended, the report confirms.
But it is also clear that some abused their authority by behaving little better than the goons attempting to disrupt the G20 summit, and that those at the top contributed to the mayhem through their lack of preparation and over-reaction. Gerry McNeilly, the Independent Police Review Director, has produced 42 recommendations, ranging from advocating changes to the Police Services Act and police Code of Conduct to impose a duty on officers to disclose evidence of misconduct, to discontinuing the use of flex cuffs. Mr. McNeilly says his goal is to “promote trust in police and policing.” He can’t accomplish that on his own. He needs the help of the police.