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The Globe and Mail

Police chief and SIU boss both went too far

As it was in the beginning – a SNAFU – so it remains.

I refer to the G20 weekend last summer, the aftermath, and the multiplicity of investigations into the way the protests/riots (there were both, lest we forget) were policed.

The findings of one of these – conducted by Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin, it is into the origin of and communication around the confusing five-metres-and-beyond the Summit fence issue – will be released on Tuesday.

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The results of another, the investigation by the province's Special Investigations Unit into injuries sustained by six men on June 26, were detailed in a press release on Nov. 25.

In that lengthy release, SIU boss Ian Scott found that in two instances – involving 19-year-old Brendan Latimer and more famously, 27-year-old Adam Nobody – there was "probable excessive use of force" but that because the responsible officers couldn't be identified, he couldn't lay any charges.

(Actually, Mr. Nobody, who changed his name for its pun-a-bility, made two separate allegations of assault, the first that as he was apprehended by a group of police in riot gear and forced to the ground and arrested, he sustained a fracture below his right eye and a broken nose, the second that, minutes later, he was dragged behind parked cars and repeatedly kicked in the head by two plainclothes officers.

(It was the first assault Mr. Scott concluded probably had happened, and that got all the attention.

(The second assault likely didn't occur, Mr. Scott said, noting that Mr. Nobody's injuries weren't severe enough to reflect the sort of attack he had alleged.)

Two things appeared to get Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair's goat – the fact that Mr. Scott had managed to paint the officers as guilty while not charging them, and his claim that Mr. Nobody's first allegation was "corroborated by a video recording" posted on YouTube.

Police would be excoriated – properly – if, when releasing suspects, they issued chatty press releases pointing out that they had "reasonable grounds" to believe that X indeed had shot Y, but because the evidence was weak or witnesses reluctant, they couldn't formally charge him.

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Similarly, if Chief Blair's officers ever attempted to suggest that they knew they had the right guy because they'd seen it confirmed on YouTube – apparently without even interviewing the fellow who filmed the incident – they would be lambasted.

In any case, it was in response to the SIU press release that Chief Blair appeared on Metro Morning last Monday for an interview with host Matt Galloway.

Chief Blair, who refreshingly is not a product of the cliché-a-matic mold from which too many of his predecessors have come, nonetheless came as close as he can come to sounding like one of them.

Clearly annoyed, and it can't be because of Mr. Galloway, who is a persistent but respectful interviewer, the Chief used uncharacteristically strong language: The SIU's reliance on a YouTube video, he said, called the entire investigation into question; that short video had been "clearly doctored" and "significantly tampered with," and officers, after all, had been attempting to arrest "a violent armed offender."

Within days, Chief Blair was eating his words and apologizing in another press release: There was no evidence that Mr. Nobody was armed or violent, and all charges against him have been withdrawn, he admitted; the YouTube video did consist of two segments, with about five seconds missing, but the Chief said, "there is no evidence to suggest this was done with any intent to mislead."

Interestingly, people have also been conflating two separate things – Mr. Scott's finding that there were "reasonable grounds" to believe in the two instances that excessive force had been used, and the difficulty in identifying the offenders, and what seems to have been the disturbingly widespread practice of officers removing their badges so as not to be identified.

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In neither of the instances where the SIU effectively pronounced guilt were missing badges demonstrably the reason the officers couldn't be identified.

Toronto Police received all of 13 complaints directly relating to officers not wearing badges; the force has investigated much more broadly and nearly 100 officers will be disciplined, although it appears that they only will be docked a day's pay, which seems a trifling penalty for breaching a regulation so important to the public trust.

Plenty of critics are unhappy with how the G20 weekend was handled, from those who wanted the police to act more decisively on the Friday, when the bulk of the vandalism and lawlessness occurred, to those who rued the mass detentions on the Saturday.

Chief Blair's remarks last week didn't help; he went too far. But so did Mr. Scott. As police don't get to pronounce guilt and decline to charge simultaneously, neither should the agency that investigates them.

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