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Here’s hoping the custodial staff at city hall have access to some kind of industrial-strength cleaning solvents. They’ll need them, and plenty of hot water, to rid the government chamber of the scummy residue of the appointment process that took place Thursday.
At the end of it, Lucy Troisi, a former manager with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, lifelong resident of Ward 28, and head of the Cabbagetown Youth Centre was appointed to replace the late Pam McConnell as councillor for the remainder of this term until next fall’s municipal election. In her remarks to council, Troisi seemed like a friendly and competent woman — if one also mildly unprepared on some questions about electoral redistricting she admitted she hasn’t even thought about — and her resume certainly appears to qualify her to serve in the role. I hope it is no slight to her to note she was carried into office on an avalanche of slime.
What happened here was disgusting on multiple levels. A bunch of city councillors appointing a representative for the people of Ward 28 rather than allowing them to elect one themselves. A lineup of well-spoken, earnest, qualified candidates making their case to a deliberative body full of people who had already determined their votes before the first speech was made. And a majority of council, shepherded by council’s budget chief Gary Crawford, using the death of a long-serving advocate for one downtown ward as an opportunity to crap on her legacy.
In a nutshell: McConnell was famously one of council’s longest-serving members, and one of its most reliably progressive in her actions and votes, a member of the NDP, a vocal supporter of LGBT rights, and most of all an anti-poverty campaigner who recently spearheaded the mayor’s anti-poverty strategy. She voted, repeatedly, against the Scarborough subway, against keeping up the eastern Gardiner and various other Fordisms, she has never been a supporter of any low-tax agenda.
When council decided to appoint someone to replace her instead of holding an election, a man who had worked closely with McConnell on that anti-poverty strategy emerged as the obvious successor. His name is Michael Creek: an openly gay man, living with a disability, who was formerly homeless and has emerged as a strong activist working with various levels of government to address poverty. He drew the endorsement of McConnell’s family, of dozens of residents' associations and community service organizations in the ward, of the city councillors in the closest neighbouring wards. He had worked closely with her and knew the files.
There is a tradition, and I think a moral obligation, when council appoints someone, to respect the voters they are giving representation to by trying to find someone who will carry on the work of the councillor they are replacing, and stay to the same political leanings. When there was talk of appointing a replacement for Rob Ford (though ultimately an election was held after he died), this was front of mind. When a replacement was appointed for Ron Moeser, ideological consistency and the wishes of Moeser’s widow were cited as highly important by councillors across the political spectrum. I have seen council do the same in the past, replacing Doug Holyday and others after they resigned to pursue other offices.
Frankly, council has no business appointing people to fill vacant council seats to represent wards. Elections should always be held, in my opinion. If there’s not enough time to hold an election, just leave the seat vacant and let staff serve constituency matters.
But if they are going to appoint someone, trying to give citizens a representative who supports the same things they voted for most recently is a minimum obligation. Very basic human decency would dictate you don’t exploit someone’s death as an opportunity to defy voters and turn a political balance to your advantage.
Indeed, Mayor John Tory’s spokesperson Don Peat tells me the mayor felt an “obligation to Pam McConnell to support Michael Creek.”
Budget chief Crawford, representative of Scarborough Southwest, felt no such obligation. He began lobbying for Troisi, a more likely conservative-friendly vote. And convinced a majority of council to go along with him — including almost all of the mayor’s closest allies, even though the mayor himself voted for Creek.
In his own speech, Crawford went out of his way to make it seem like somehow this wasn’t about political leaning — he spoke about McConnell’s proud legacy as his reason for supporting Troisi, prompting someone in the gallery to shout “how dare you.”
Michael Thompson, representative of Scarborough Centre, went further, working himself up into high-raised-voice sanctimony about how McConnell’s legacy demanded a woman replace her.
Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong did everyone the favour of being honest. He asked Troisi “point blank” he said, a lot of questions, and she said she’d “support the mayor’s agenda,” vote for low taxes, support the Scarborough subway extension, supported the Gardiner. Basically, on every question he said he asked her, she directly opposed what McConnell stood for. That’s what Minnan-Wong, a career-long opponent of McConnell’s, liked. “I would like someone who would vote the way I think this council should be going,” he said.
In other words: let me use this woman’s death to overrule what she and the voters who elected her believed in so that my own political leanings have an additional council vote. It’s a vile sentiment. As disrespectful as it is anti-democratic. But you’ve got to admire that at least he didn’t pretend it was about something else, as so many others did.
So Crawford got a majority of council to go along with him — the final vote was 24-19. In the process, he created a toxic split in the city council, with those who supported Creek believing a sacred line has been crossed. And Troisi will now serve on a Toronto-East York Community Council in which only one fellow member voted for her, and the others feel her appointment was a horrible injustice and an insult to the memory of their beloved colleague. And with many residents associations and community groups in the ward she represents feeling the same way.
It’s hard to see why this was worth the anger and rupture for Crawford and his allies — it is very unlikely any vote this budget season will turn a different direction because of this one vote. If anything, it seems the poisoning of goodwill among the council minority will make building ad hoc coalitions harder.
By the end, several councillors — including a few who voted for Troisi — swore they would never support an appointment rather than a byelection again. If they keep their word on that, then at least one good thing will have come out of this.
Edward Keenan writes on city issues firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow: @thekeenanwire
Pam McConnell’s legacy sullied by Toronto councillors seeking political gains: Keenan
Sgt. Christopher Heard, accused of groping two inebriated women after offering them rides home in his cruiser from the Entertainment District in separate incidents, turning off his in-car camera both times. Acquitted in criminal court last month but still facing Police Act charges.
Suspended with pay: 18 months and counting.
Constables Leslie Nyznik, Sameera Kara, Joshua Cabero, accused of sexual assault against a parking enforcement officer. Acquitted in criminal court in August. Police Chief Mark Saunders has still not indicated whether they will be charged under the Police Act.
Suspended with pay: 33 months. (A Toronto police spokesperson told the Star on Thursday the officers remain on paid suspension and the internal investigation is “ongoing.”)
Officer James Forcillo, convicted of attempted murder in the shooting death of teenager Sammy Yatim, verdict under appeal.
Suspended with pay: 35 months.
Suspended without pay upon conviction and sentencing in July, 2016.
Constables Jeffrey Tout, Benjamin Elliott, Michael Taylor and Frank Douglas, criminally charged in January last year with 17 counts of obstruct justice and eight counts of perjury for allegedly planting heroin in a suspect’s car, then lying about it in court. Suspended without pay: 22 months and counting.
Cops in Ontario suspended with pay who earned more than $100,000 in 2016, according to a CBC investigation: At least 15.
We could go on. And on. And on.
This is the only province in Canada where suspended police officers must continue to be paid their full salary until and unless they are sentenced to serve time.
The landscape may change if a massive bill announced Thursday by the Liberals at Queen’s Park, including an overhaul of the Police Services Act, is ever actually passed, without dilution, and quite possibly not even then.
As so much with this government, what’s promised — what’s unveiled with plenty of bells and whistles — turns out to be drastically less than avouched in both essence and detail.
In a draft version of the bill posted online, the section dealing specifically with giving police chiefs authority to suspend officers without pay, would be only narrowly applicable to any of the aforementioned officers — those on-duty when the alleged criminal or discreditable conduct occurred. Nyznik, Kara and Cabero, for example, were off-duty.
“The devil is in the details,” Mike McCormack, head of the Toronto Police Association, told the Star. “I won’t be going out there to beat the drum until I have a better understanding of what this actually means.”
While the conversation was somewhat hypothetical, McCormack suggested that the only cases he could recall of officers who would be “caught” under the no-pay suspension provisions as outlined would be a couple of notorious criminal coppers: Richard Wills, the ex-Toronto officer convicted in 2007 of murdering his mistress, and Darin Cooper, the Toronto detective sentenced to 9 ½ years in 2001 for being part of a gang that robbed drug dealers during a three-month crime spree.
Ontario police chiefs have long advocated for suspensions without pay. It is certainly a matter of particular public revulsion — that single sentence appended to reports about police officers before the court or before a tribunal: “Suspended with pay.”
Yet the specificity of when a police chief can do so renders the provision all but useless, with yet another bureaucratic layer of notice and appeal built in.
The cluelessness of Marie-France Lalonde, community safety and correctional services minister, was evident when asked by reporters at the Romper Room briefing to clarify the unpaid suspension proposal. What is meant by “interim measure under specific circumstances”?
“Ten months ago, I became the minister of community safety. And this was probably the most discussed . . . in trying to find the right balance. Where the officers, the chief and the public would all find a way.
“The chief cannot, by default, choose this function. I want to be very clear that this will be made with the process. So, for instance, a chief of police feels that the officer should be suspended without pay. The chief would have to inform the officer within 60 days. The officer would have two choices: either agree to the suspension or don’t. If the officer chooses not to agree with this decision, then the (new Ontario Policing Complaints Agency) could, as an independent, make the final decision. We have to understand that there would be court proceedings, potentially, and a verdict at the end. So the suspension would have for the time of the duration. If the officer is found not guilty then it would be reimbursed.”
That could take years.
“This is moving forward,” Lalonde insisted. “After the impasse, this would give the chief a measure that they can suspend an officer for serious offences while not on duty. Certainly we want to expedite the process to ensure that the fastest decision is made in those cases.”
Clear as mud.
We should all have such generous and overarching protections from employers. Or not.
In the private realm, termination for just cause is common, although firing a person when charges are laid — prior to a finding of guilt — can be reversed by the courts (even, possibly, by a human rights tribunal). In a decision last year, involving a man charged with two counts of sexual assault, an Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of the discharged employee, making it clear that “criminal charges alone, for matters outside of employment, cannot constitute just cause.”
Such cases are “fact sensitive,” depending on factors including the seriousness of the charge and the position of trust held by an employee. Radio personality Jian Ghomeshi, for instance, was canned by the CBC after management viewed a graphic video, for conduct deemed a “fundamental breech” of the national broadcaster’s “standard of acceptable conduct,” as stated in an internal memo — and was not reinstated despite acquittal on all criminal charges.
Everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise — in a court of law, not the court of public opinion or the court of the workplace.
If anything, police officers should be held to even higher standards of professional conduct, personal morality and behaviour which brings institutions of law enforcement into disrepute.
This omnibus policing and safety bill contains many heartening reform proposals — especially public transparency by the Special Investigations Unit, which has been exasperatingly clandestine about investigations and would, if the bill is passed, be given an expanded mandate, called in whenever an officer fires at a person.
But, except for allegations of serious misconduct or criminal charges — “serious” not defined — cops facing discipline, cops facing trial, would still be whiling away the days or shifted to desk-duty.
According to figures compiled four years ago by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, on an average day there were 25,208 people behind bars in provincial and territorial jails, a tripling over three decades. Nearly 55 per cent of them were in pretrial custody — legally innocent, awaiting trial or bail.
You’d have to look long and hard to find a cop among them. They’re getting paid to sit at home on their duffs.
Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Policing reform bill may still allow charged cops to keep getting paid: DiManno