2 min

Standing up to the cops

Politicians worry about the men in blue

Toronto police need to be reined in, believe several city councillors. And recent events may help bring the conflict to a head.

The libel trial of councillor Kyle Rae – who was sued by police officers after comparing their raid on the Pussy Palace lesbian bathhouse to a “panty raid” – begins Tues, May 27. And last month Scarborough councillor Bas Balkissoon angrily resigned from the Police Services Board.

“I just looked at what I was doing on the board,” says Balkissoon. “And I said, ‘I’m not making any headway here.’ I have a problem with the way everything is done in private and nobody knows what’s happening.”

Rae is asking witnesses to the Sep, 2000 Pussy Palace raid to come forward to help in his trial defence.

“It’s to corroborate the stories,” says Rae. “We want to hear from the individuals who were there, about their fears, their insecurities, in their own words.”

Earlier this year, Ontario Court Judge Peter Hryn said that the five male police officers in the raid violated the women’s constitutional rights. He threw all the evidence out and the Crown withdrew all the charges.

Hryn said the women were entitled to a safe place to explore their sexuality, free from the presence of men and compared the investigation to a strip search and visual rape. He said it was “one of the clearest cases” where police behaviour shocked the community.

For Balkissoon, the inability to openly investigate such incidents was one of the causes of his resignation. He says police have told him that the process is kept secret because information in the complaints could be used to identify individuals.

“I don’t know why these complaints can’t be investigated publicly. They would tell me that the personal information involved could identify people. But they could strike out that information, they could just provide information on what happened.”

Balkissoon says the public often fails to realize how limited the powers of board members are.

“The ordinary citizen might think the board members have a lot of clout. They don’t. Day-to-day operations are in the hands of the chief.”

But Balkissoon says that even on matters the board is responsible for, he couldn’t get anything done. He says, for example, he worries about how much data police are allowed to maintain on people.

“Volunteer workers or people who work in social services where children are involved have to have police checks done. If you’ve ever been brought in for questioning, that stays on your record. And the police release that. An employer might decide not to give you the job. You were never charged or arrested, so why should you lose your job?”

Balkissoon also says he thinks the police approach to community involvement and consultation is inadequate.

“We have a lot of advisory groups that work with the police, but it’s too centralized. Outreach should be done on a division by division basis.”

He says he doesn’t know what will happen with community policing, which he also wanted to look at according to the needs of each community.

But according to councillor Olivia Chow, who had to resign from the Police Services Board in 2000 after criticizing police aggression at a Queen’s Park demonstration, community needs won’t be met until there’s a willingness to question the police agenda.

“We need political leaders that believe in civilian control of police, believe in critical thinking and have the guts to ask tough questions.

“We spend in the city over $600 million on the police. Are we getting our money’s worth? Are we feeling safer because of the money we’re spending?”

* Witnesses to the Pussy Palace raid can contact Michael Smith, Kyle Rae’s lawyer, at (416) 367-6234.