Monday, July 13, 1998
Police board lacks strong leadershipJane Doe, who spent 12 years fighting to prove that Toronto police used her as bait for a serial rapist, finally got the apology she deserves. But it came from city council, not the Toronto police services board.
The board, which oversees the 6,700 member police force, has shown a regrettable lack of leadership in this affair.
It's chair, Norm Gardner, should have acknowledged that mistakes were made. Instead, he tried to justify and excuse the force's performance.
He said the question of an apology and an appeal of Doe's legal victory were in the hands of the insurance company handling the case.
But there was no insurance firm.
It is astonishing -- and worrisome -- that neither the board nor police Chief David Boothby knew the Doe case was fought using city funds under a self-insurance scheme.
When the police board is in the dark on such a basic matter, it leaves us wondering how effective its oversight can be.
Madam Justice Jean MacFarland ruled the police force had been "utterly negligent" in its investigation and had violated Doe's Charter rights because of its sexist view of women.
Despite this scathing conclusion, Gardner blithely rose to the defence of the force, musing that there are "situations where people have claimed to have been sexually assaulted, where no sexual assault took place."
Not only was his remark insensitive, it rejected one of the underpinnings of Doe's case; a complaint that police didn't believe two women who said they had been raped.
Gardner has since apologized. But the damage has been done. His comments were offensive to women and sent a message to the police that there's no need for change.
By all accounts, he is a hardworking chair and has improved officers morale. But the events of recent days has confirmed our concern that he's too pro-police to be an effective critic of the force.
As a society, we grant police officers a unique trust and sweeping powers of arrest and use of force to protect us.
It's the job of a vigilant and vocal police board to act as a safeguard against any abuse of these powers and keep watch over the activities and policies of the police.
Unfortunately, Toronto's board has been largely silent in recent month, despite a host of problems that have rocked the force.
These include an Internal Affairs probe into allegations that senior officers billed the force for such services such as tax preparations and criminal probes of both the firearms registration unit and property unit.
Even in a clear-cut case of police negligence, as the judge highlighted in the Jane Doe case, the board is mute.
Only vice-chair Judy Sgro, the board's vice-chair and a Toronto councillor, showed any sense when she said early last week that the board should apologize.
She, along with Gardner and lawyer Jeff Lyons carry a disproportionate share of the board's workload.
Provincial appointee Emilla Valentini, a one-time Progressive Conservative candidate, has been a disappointment. Her absence at many of the board's committee meetings has left her colleagues shouldering a heavy load.
Likewise, Toronto Councillor Sherene Shaw (Scarborough Agincourt) must become more active on police board matters.
Board members Sylvia Hudson, a former Jamaican police officer, has spirit. She showed her mettle when she went head-to-head with police union president Craig Bromell at the last board meeting.
The real problem is that the board hasn't jelled into an effective working group. It needs to find its voice and show that it is a public watchdog, not a police lapdog.
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Created: February 14, 1999|
Last modified: February 14, 1999
Jane Doe, c/o Walnet Institute|
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
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