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E-BLAST: Police Boards 101

At our last City Council session, Mayor Chow appointed me to the Toronto Police Service Board (TPSB). It is the second time in my career serving on the Board. I first joined the TPSB at the end of 2014, along with newly elected Mayor John Tory, and sat there until spring 2018. It remains some of my most challenging and rewarding work to this day.

Back then, there were a number of challenging matters in progress at the Board. High tensions were swirling around the TPSB and the Toronto Police Service itself. Two damning third-party reports had just been released: One regarding the events of G20 and another on mental heath response fatalities. These reports raised the question of how the Police Service and the Board should work together to deliver community safety. Looming over everything was the unresolved and painful issue of non-investigative carding, which predominantly targeted thousands of young Black men.

Today, there are new tensions confronting policing and police board governance. There is also the implementation of the new Provincial Community Safety and Policing Act, which updates policing policies across Ontario and directs local police boards to develop specific new policies to best serve their unique communities. Of course, the slate is not clean from my last term on the TPSB either—some notable recommendations from those old reports have yet to be implemented.

As I start this work with the present-day Toronto Police Service Board, it seems like a good time for us to discuss exactly what a police board is and what it is not.

I joined my first TPSB meeting of this term last Tuesday, April 30.

In Ontario, police boards are kind of like city councils. Mayors and councillors don’t directly run the city—the public service runs operations while the mayor and council provide strategic direction, overseeing policy, budget, and accountability mechanisms for all of the services paid for by your taxes. Similarly, police boards don’t directly run police services. They provide policy and strategic direction to the chief of police and their service. They also ensure that policing is kept accountable through a number of mechanisms prescribed under the Provincial Act.

I want to make it clear that police boards do not directly handle specific complaints or investigations about police conduct. Those are handled by an independent Provincial agency called the Law Enforcement Complaints Agency (LECA) and a couple of other bodies. I’ve provided more information on these oversight mechanisms at the bottom of the column. If you have concerns about specific police incidents or operations, that is where you should direct them.

One of the reports I mentioned above is the “Independent Civilian Review into Matters Relating to the G20 Summit” by the Honourable John W. Morden. Justice Morden was a retired Court of Appeal Judge with a storied history of handling civil rights cases that dates back to the 1970s. In conducting his review of the Toronto Police Service’s conduct during the G20 Summit, Justice Morden found he had to examine the entire relationship between police boards and police services. It was imperative that he determined exactly which role each played, or should have played, in the events of the G20 back in the summer of 2010.

He suggested that while it is true that police boards do not direct the day-to-day operations of police forces, they should provide strategic direction for operations. In the case of extraordinary events such as the G20, with the whole world watching, police boards need information to provide strategic advice to the chief of police. This need for information sharing is exactly why police boards and police services can’t exist in totally separate silos. They must intertwine.

A photo of the Toronto Police Service headquarters.

In his report, Morden set out a “Consultation Protocol” to guide interactions between the TPSB and the Chief of Police, which is made up of three elements:

  1. Information exchange between the Board and Chief of Police

  2. Identifying the “critical points”

  3. Board collaboration in defining the ‘what,’ but not the ‘how,’ of an operation

This protocol has been referred to in many subsequent reports and inquiries into policing, including the Honourable Gloria Epstein’s report “Missing and Missed”, which was commissioned following the Bruce McArthur serial killer case, who targeted gay and bisexual men in Toronto for over seven years before being apprehended.

I will use Justice Morden’s protocol to govern what I ask for in my time on the Police Board. Let’s go over each element. First: the exchange of information. Of course, there are statutory protections over information that must be kept confidential to ensure successful case resolutions and court outcomes. Beyond that, it is expected that the exchange of information between a police board and service is reciprocal. Police boards must be provided with appropriate operational information to support their policy-making function, and the chief of police must feel free to provide their opinion on any policy the board is considering. This dynamic makes it possible for both sides to address changing circumstances through policy and operational adjustments.

The second element of the protocol is identifying “critical points”. At critical points in policing, police boards should seek and be presented with operational information. In 2012, Justice Morden cited examples such as hosting an internationally significant event, or something operationally significant such as introducing the use of tasers. At that time, Justice Morden recommended the Toronto Police Services Board and Toronto Police Service jointly develop a policy that clearly outlines what constitutes a “critical point” and how information is exchanged thereafter.

A decade later, Justice Epstein criticized the Board and Service for not having set that policy yet—an error she suggested was a significant factor leading to the strategic and operational deficiencies that allowed McArthur to murder at least eight gay men before being caught. Thankfully, the Board adopted all of Justice Epstein’s recommendations, including to draft this policy. Two years later, I will be working to ensure the Board does so in a timely manner.

The third element is board collaboration on the ‘what’ but not the ‘how’ of an operation. Justice Morden said that the Board needs operational information from the Chief of Police in order to determine the Toronto Police Service’s overall objectives and priorities during a particular operation, event, or issue. Our objectives and priorities should align with the community we serve. With the right information, a police board will develop policies that serve their community.

When I joined the Board in 2014, Justice Morden’s report was guiding the TPSB as it grappled with the events of the G20, tragic persons in crisis shootings, and the grave issue of carding. I believe that both the Morden and Epstein reports should guide the TPSB and TPS now as we deal with challenges such as the City’s ability to pay for policing needs, the current protest environment, preparations for the 2026 World Cup, and all of the policy development necessary to comply with the new Community Safety and Policing Act.

I will ask probing questions. Lots of them. These are not “gotcha” questions. I’ll always have respect for the answers that come back from the Service. In the environment envisioned by Justices Morden and Epstein, there should be trust on both sides. That is what allows the necessary exchange of information and, in turn, the strategic direction and policy that will allow the police to serve you best.

There will be a role for you to play as well. Under the new Provincial policy, all police boards must update their strategic plans annually and consult the community and local city council while doing so. This change was adopted at my first Board meeting just last week, so I’ll be sure to share more information on how you can take part in that review in future E-Blasts. Of course, I’ll also keep you up to date on the goings on at the Board as all of this important work continues to unfold in the months ahead.

As promised, here are details on the independent bodies that handle complaints about police conduct:

The Law Enforcement Complaints Agency (LECA)

The Law Enforcement Complaints Agency (LECA), formerly known as the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), is responsible for receiving, managing, and overseeing public complaints about misconduct of police officers in Ontario. As a civilian, arm’s-length agency of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, their decisions are independent from the Ontario government, the police, and the community. The agency cannot investigate, recommend or lay criminal charges.

The Inspectorate of Policing

The Inspectorate of Policing (IOP) is a new arm’s-length entity established to meet the legislated mandate of the Inspector General of Policing of Ontario (IG) under the Community Safety and Policing Act. This entity is the first of its kind in Canada.

The Inspector General and the Inspectorate of Policing will improve performance of police services, police service boards and organizations that employ special constables by:

  • Responding to public complaints concerning adequate and effective police service delivery and allegations of police board member misconduct

  • Examining performance of police services and boards through independent inspections, investigations, monitoring and advising

  • Identifying effective performance and, where improvements are needed, using new enforcement tools uniquely available to the Inspector General, including issuing directions and imposing measures to ensure compliance with the CSPA and its regulations

  • Imposing measures to ensure the provision of adequate and effective policing or in cases of a policing emergency

  • Conducting data analysis and research through the Inspectorate’s Centre of Data Intelligence and Innovation to promote evidence-based actions and improvements

  • Publicly reporting on the activities of the Inspector General

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU)

The mandate of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is to nurture confidence in Ontario’s police services by assuring the public that the actions of these officials resulting in serious injury, death, the discharge of a firearm at a person or an allegation of sexual assault are subjected to rigorous, independent investigations. Incidents which fall within this mandate must be reported to the SIU by the organization which employs the involved official and/or may be reported by any other person or organization.

The objective of every SIU investigation is to determine whether there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of the official. It is not to determine whether the involved official(s) may have committed some lesser offense, such as a breach of a provincial law or professional misconduct.


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