Police Chief Bill Blair has withdrawn a request to the Toronto Police Services Board to deny reimbursing a former drug squad officer for legal fees after charges against him in a police corruption case were thrown out.
At the start of the board’s meeting Thursday, Chief Blair said he received further information from a City of Toronto lawyer that will inform a new report he plans to submit to the board next month. He refused to say whether the new information means he’ll change his position on the matter.
“I haven’t yet considered the advice,” he said. “ I’ve undertaken to consider the advice before coming back to board.”
Chief Blair had asked the board to deny the $424,790 claim from Rick Benoit, one of six Toronto drug squad officers in a unit led by John Schertzer charged in 2004 over allegations they beat and stole from drug dealers in the late 1990s.
In the report submitted to the board prior to the meeting, Chief Blair stated that if Mr. Benoit hadn’t resigned from the force in 2007, police would have pressed disciplinary charges under the Police Services Act.
The collective agreement for police officers normally covers costs for officers who are charged, but not convicted, of a criminal or disciplinary offence. But a separate provision allows the board to refuse payment if an officer’s actions “amounted to a gross dereliction of duty or deliberate abuse of his/her powers as a police officer.”
Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, said the board should cover Mr. Benoit’s legal expenses because there was no finding of wrong-doing on his part.
After some charges against him were thrown out, Mr. Benoit faced allegations of assault and extortion until an unreasonable delay in bringing the case to trial led a Superior Court to stay charges against all six officers in 2008.
The case against Mr. Benoit’s former colleagues continued after an appeal, but the stay for his own charges was upheld. The Ontario Court of Appeal criticized the Crown’s intention to move Mr. Benoit’s case to trial only after the lengthier proceedings involving the other officers were finished.
The five other officers were convicted by a jury in 2012 of obstruction of justice and perjury, but acquitted of charges related to the incident involving Mr. Benoit. They were sentenced to 45 days of house arrest. An appeal by the Crown is scheduled to be heard this fall.