Monday, February 15, 1999

Sean Fine

p. A1.

He's out to rearm a force under fire

Police union leader Craig Bromell offers some advice to critics of Toronto's finest: Watch your backs.

It sues its opponents for millions of dollars, attacks them on billboards and in newspapers, and hires private eyes to shadow those who investigate its members.

The Toronto Police Association is fighting back.

It says the police rank and file are tired of being pilloried in the press by know-nothing politicians. They are tired of being sued by rape victims, handcuffed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and scrutinized by inexperienced part-timers from the provincial Special Investigations Unit.

"The SIU is not there to look after your best interests," the union warns in signs posted at police stations.

Politicians are alarmed at the prospect of advertisements ridiculing them at election time and lawyers are concerned that witnesses to police shootings may be intimidated when the union sends around its own detectives.

"It's frankly scary," lawyer Julian Falconer said of the shadow investigations.

"Cry me a river," responded Gary Clewley, the union's legal counsel.

The man behind the new militancy is Craig Bromell, 39, a career constable who won the presidency of the 7,000-member union on his first try 17 months ago.

Mr. Bromell cheerfully acknowledges that he wants to silence the critics because no one understands better than he does how much harm they have done to the police and their public reputation.

In conversation, he returns to this theme again and again.

"What are people saying about us?" he asked at one point.

"They're saying you're an aggressive, militant union that wants to squelch criticism."

"Yeah," he said, smiling.

It is a militancy built on Mr. Bromell's own deep sense of personal grievance.

His grievance goes back several years. In 1992, he organized a march of thousands of officers on Queen's Park over new limits on the police use of force. In 1995, he was involved in a kind of wildcat strike, the first in local police history.

"The command didn't like it," he said recently. "The first opportunity they saw to get me, they were going to get me."

The following year, a well-known neighbourhood character complained that several police officers had kidnapped him, driven him to Cherry Beach and beaten the pulp out of him. The department's internal affairs branch, which reports directly to Chief David Boothby, launched an investigation of Mr. Bromell and eight other officers at 51 Division.

The scrutiny went on for six months, during which, Mr. Bromell said, his phone was tapped and his conversations with his father, then dying of cancer, taped.

"This is what upset me more than anything -- his last few weeks and months he had to suffer even more," knowing that his son was under a cloud, he said.

Finally, the case was dropped against the "the 51-9," as they called themselves. "The day I was cleared," Mr. Bromell said, "is the day I decided to run for president. I didn't want another officer to go through what I went through."

He easily defeated incumbent Paul Walter for the $96,000-a-year presidency in October, 1997, and quickly surrounded himself with advisers. Lawyers, government-relations experts and public-relations mavens are now on the payroll to help make the union a potent force.

But the critics say it has moved beyond merely speaking out strongly on behalf of its members. They say it has purposely sought to intimidate politicians and frighten off its watchdog.

Six feet and 275 pounds, big-boned and paunchy with his silver-black hair slicked back, Craig Bromell is an everyman of police officers.

The twice-married father of four grew up in a middle-class household in a Toronto suburb and later in Oshawa. His mother stayed home raising him, his two brothers and a sister; his father was a manager for a tobacco company and later an outside worker for the City of Oshawa, where he was a union rep.

As a child watching cop shows on television, young Craig admired the way the police always seemed to be saving lives.

By 21, he had graduated from the police college in Aylmer, Ont., and was at 51 Division in Toronto's tough downtown east end.

The reality of the job was more mundane than the TV version -- lots of paperwork -- but he loved it anyway. "The first 10 years, I had just a great time. I always gave 100 per cent. I was always trying to be the first one to the call, if it was a real important one.

"I believe I gave all-out for the company, but that's what was going on back then. If you didn't, the guys would be pissed off at you."

Then things changed, he said. Critics of the police suddenly seemed to be everywhere, undermining them as they went about their daily work.

"For the last 10 years or so, it seems we've been in the news a lot more -- negative news. That affects everybody. There just seems to be so much negative talk about us when there shouldn't have been. I think it affected a whole generation of police officers in the city."

His closest adviser and friend is Mr. Clewley, a 46-year-old former Crown attorney who says, "We went through the war together, so to speak," with the internal-affairs investigation.

He makes a good sidekick. While Mr. Bromell is street smart and shrewd, Mr. Clewley has the street fighter's quick and feisty language, putting into words -- and action -- the sense of grievance Mr. Bromell still carries.

With the two men leading the way, the union has butted heads regularly with the Special Investigations Unit, set up in 1991 to review serious incidents such as police shootings and deaths in custody.

Not that the SIU has been charge-happy: Its more than 1,300 investigations have produced 36 charges (only 15 in the past six years) and eight convictions, an average of just one a year.

But the unit, now led by Peter Tinsley (who was a military prosecutor in the torture death of Somali teenager Shidane Arone at the hands of Canadian soldiers in 1993), sticks in the union's craw.

"One bad case can screw up the whole system," Mr. Bromell said. "We're looking for perfection, almost."

In search of that perfection, the union has:

Posted notices advising its members not to speak with SIU investigators or write any notes until they get legal advice. The notices went up shortly before new rules took effect in which police must give the SIU a statement within 24 hours.

Sued former SIU director André Marin and two investigators for $3-million, alleging malicious persecution in connection with a case against a union member later withdrawn by the Crown.

Hired private investigators to conduct shadow probes of SIU investigations. Mr. Falconer, who is handling a suit against the department on behalf of a family of a man shot dead by the police, is alarmed. "Witnesses the SIU may not even know about because the officers haven't co-operated may talk to them, and there's no way to stop them."

Mounted an ad campaign denouncing the SIU's decision to lay dangerous-driving charges against an officer after a 73-year-old bystander was struck and killed during a police chase.

The union also is said to have amassed a multimillion-dollar war chest to use in part to advertise for and against elected politicians. Recently, it was accused of trying to orchestrate the removal of Councillor Judy Sgro, considered a critic, as vice-chairwoman of Toronto Police Services Board.

Mr. Bromell denies any union involvement in the Sgro matter and calls the size of the war chest "totally top secret. We never want anybody to know what our next move is. That's just for us."

How do the members feel about their president's approach?

Very comfortable, it seems. "He knows the crap that you deal with," said one 11-year veteran of the force, speaking on condition his name not be published.

In the old days, he explained, "you could deal with crime on the street. If you got physical at times, the public would support that.

"Now, if somebody says you so much as laid a finger on them, you have I don't know how many groups to investigate you. And police management... will be after you, too, so they'll have a little feather in their cap. It's kind of hypocritical."

He said he would leave the job if he could find something that paid as well. Toronto's constables are the best paid in the province, earning more than $50,000 annually.

"We have no rights. Have you ever used the Charter of Rights personally? Ninety-eight per cent of the public doesn't use it. Who takes advantage of it? The criminals. Basically all it does it make our job more difficult."

He said he knows Mr. Bromell personally, and "I think he enjoys being the guy the rank and file can look to. He enjoys being the guy that sticks up for them. I think he enjoys knocking heads with people."

Chief Boothby says the Toronto media sometimes seem confused. "I think people have to understand -- Craig Bromell doesn't run the police force. That's my job."

But the two are on good terms, he said. "I've really had no problems with him. Our relationship isn't adversarial. We don't agree on everything, but that's life."

Meanwhile, although Mr. Bromell's personal wounds have yet to heal (he says he may write a book about his experiences), he recognizes that he must be professional in his dealings with Mr. Boothby.

"Because of the 7,000 members, I can't have past experiences get in the way of running the organization. I promised myself it wouldn't happen. It's tough with a lot of the command, knowing what they did to me."

Toronto Police clippings... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: February 18, 1999
Last modified: February 18, 1999

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