Toronto
3 min

Memo to: The media

RE: Covering the cops

Credit: Xtra files

Please stop blindly regurgitating whatever the police say. You’re missing the real story.



The studied ignorance began when Julian Fantino was nominated for chief. There were reports that the gay community was opposing Fantino because of his London “kiddie porn” arrests, and that black community groups were opposed because of his past support for race-based crime statistics. But the media offered no real understanding of either case.



Since then, there’ve been The Bijou raids. There’ve been liquor inspections and threats against a number of gay bars, which haven’t been reported. And, of course, there were the cops who barged into the Pussy Palace. This was widely reported, though most stories focussed on the fact that they were all male officers, without asking why they were there at all.



And the aftermath of the Pussy Palace raid has been severely underreported.



The Toronto Police Services Board promised it would release its internal investigation into the matter. It hasn’t and the media haven’t pushed it.



The media report cops threatening to sue Kyle Rae to shut him up – then don’t report it when the cops actually do sue.



Conversely, when the police union newsletter says the Sun’s Heather Bird is too critical of corrupt cops, the Dec 8 Sun devotes a whole page to it.



Yet two plainclothes male cops in a marked car marched into a women-only Pussy Palace fundraiser at the University Of Toronto and pushed their way into the washroom. The superintendent of 52 Division says he doesn’t think it happened. The mainstream media ignore the incident.



It’s not only gay men and lesbians who are worried. Cops allegedly beat a mentally disturbed man to death. The media don’t even blink when mysterious witnesses appear the next day to claim the police were defending themselves.



There was a glimmer. Before Fantino took office, the Feb 19 National Post ran an interview in which Fantino said we should start publicly caning drug offenders. Even The Post played it as a lunatic suggestion, but it doesn’t seem to make any journalist more eager to question Fantino’s pronouncements.



So when Fantino tries to unilaterally rewrite the mandate of the Special Investigations Unit, the media report that the Police Services Board turned him down, but don’t ask why he wanted to do it, or what will happen when a new board takes power. The closest thing to an exception is The Star’s Royson James, who suggests that no one appointed to the new, post-municipal election board will stand up to the police. But when announced last week – mayor Mel Lastman, and councillors Gloria Lindsay-Luby (Etobicoke Centre) and Bas Balkissoon (Scarborough-Rouge River), all of whom seem to fulfill James’ prediction – the Star forgets that analysis. The Dec 8 Star contents itself with quoting Balkissoon as saying that he won’t shrink from using unmarked cars to catch speeders.



Since Fantino took office, cops in both the drug squad and the fugitive retrieval unit have been charged with misappropriation of funds, and a cop was also recently charged with using dubious charges to boost overtime pay. According to the Dec 9 Star, there have been 233 charges against 36 officers in the first half of the year, although it notes that two officers account for 60 percent of those charges. The media has rightly played this as a Fantino crackdown.



The same article states that public complaints against police are up 30 percent in the first half of the year. The paper says only that Fantino “will not tolerate misconduct.” But nobody has pointed out that this crackdown only seems to apply to money.



When it comes to violence, Fantino’s proposed change to the SIU rules – which may be revived with the new board – states that a victim of alleged police abuse has to spend more than a day in hospital before the SIU could be called in. No one reports on whether a day in the morgue qualifies.



Fantino suggests that a merger between the Rock Machine bike gang – with a grand total of 75 Ontario members – and the Texas Bandidos calls for giving police sweeping powers. He says police will crack down on dangerous drivers, and the media cheers him for saying police will do their jobs.



The problem is that you Toronto reporters don’t want to criticize the police. Police reporters, who are in the best position to report on police shortcomings, admire the cops. They spend all their time hanging out with them at crime scenes, they know the cops who rise to the top. And they feel that if they’re critical, the police will cut off their access.



For papers like The Star and The Sun, whose news coverage is a steady diet of death, violent crime and car crashes, that would mean a lot of empty pages. And since the mainstream seems unready to fill them with actual journalism, I don’t expect the media to explore Toronto’s metamorphosis into a place where cops seem to be misusing their powers more and more.