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News 2004

posted September 26, 2004

Police catch families toasting marshmallows at a park campfire

Dear Councillor Giambrone,

Since this year is the tenth anniversary of the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park community campfire permit, I'm wondering whether you might arrange for Fourteen Division to be informed about these campfires.

The best thing would be if you could call the superintendent himself, and let him know that there is a pretty nice neighbourhood here and that we've had these campfires a lot. It seems that Fourteen Division may be unaware of this, even after ten years. Here's what makes me think this:

On Saturday evening, September 25, at 10 p.m. two officers from Fourteen Division found several families at the park fire circle having a park campfire. They wrote them a ticket for $55 and summoned a fire truck to put the fire out. I'm sure the superintendent and you as our City Councillor would both agree that the police have better things to do than catch families having marshmallow roasts, and that those big firetrucks have better things to do than throw cold water on family campfires in the middle of the park. Beyond that, now we have to charge the next 11 campfire groups $5 extra to cover the $55 ticket. (We don't want the families who got the ticket to be unfairly penalized.)

If you could tell the superintendent that the groups who come to do campfires are aboriginal groups (like the ones that had the pow wow yesterday), church groups (like the African church youth group last Friday night), boy scouts and girl guides, birthday parties, school groups, family reunions, storytellers, and on and on, maybe the superintendent would find that interesting.

Our hope is that, if you could give this description to the superintendent, he could then acquaint his officers a little bit with the community they're working in. I'm sure it must be quite disorienting for them if their homes are outside of Toronto, to see that we do campfires here. Hopefully they will soon see that this is nothing they need to stamp out.


posted October 5, 2004

By the time the October newsletter went to print, Councillor Giambrone - sadly - had not found the time to make the personal call we asked for. This is disappointing. But perhaps he will follow up at some point.

posted June 1, 2004

Correspondence with the Ontario Attorney General about handling complaints about the police

May, 2004: We sent the newsletter with the story of "Mary, Joe and the baby" to the office of the Hon. Michael Bryant, Attorney General of Ontario. He sent back an invitation for input on how to improve the police complaints system (To civilianoversight@jus.gov.on.ca

An invitation from Michael Bryant, Attorney General:

April 7, 2004

Ms.Jane Price, President, Friends of Dufferin Grove Park

Dear Ms.Price,

I am writing today to inform you that I have been asked by Premier Dalton MGuinty to review the province's system of public complaints about police conduct, one of the most important aspects of civilian oversight of police.

As you know, the McGuinty government is working to deliver real, positive change in the priority areas that matter most to Ontarians. That's why we're working with people across the province to build strong, safe communities that work. Our communities rely on excellent police work. And our police depend on the confidence and cooperation of the public. So a strong civilian oversight system that is fair and equitable to both the public and trhe police is enormously important to our government and the people we serve. While I have the utmost faith in the integrity and professionalism of our province's police services, complaints against individual officers do arise. How those complaints are considered and resolved is critical to sustaining or strengthening the bond between police and citizens -- and public safety is only as strong as that bond.

We plan on engaging people in a review of civilian oversight during the late spring or early summer. Once we have received the public's and stakeholders' advice, the government will take the necessary steps to meet its commitment to implement a stronger police complaints system.

I am interested in knowing which groups and individuals you think we should consult with. Please share this letter with anyone you believe would be interested. If you have ideas on issues you believe need to be canvassed, I would also be interested in hearing them at this time.

Please feel free to submit your response to me by email at the following address: civilianoversight@jus.gov.on.ca

Michael Bryant Attorney General

cc.The Honourable Monte Kwinter, Minister of Community Safety & Correctional Services.

A Lesson in the Law

A Police Officer Shoves A Park Staff Person Citing Interference

In the middle of May, a park staff person saw that the police were questioning some young park users. The staff person went over to observe. One of the youth had been seen smoking a marijuana cigarette, and so he and his friends were i.d.'d and searched. Since there was no additional weed on any of them and none showed any charges on the police computer system, they were not arrested. (Possession of a small amount of marijuana does not currently result in a criminal conviction.)

However, the three police officers involved in questioning the youth were not happy that our staff person, and a few additional park users, stayed nearby to watch. They told the staff person to leave, and when he did not, one of the officers pushed him. The officer said that if the park staff did not go away, he would be charged with obstruction.

Since park staff generally make it their business to attend to any disturbance in the park, and since they also know a lot of the people who come here, ignoring visits from the police is not really an option. However, no one wants to be arrested for obstruction. What to do?

Once again, we found help among the hockey players. (Hockey players at the park seem to be an endless source of park friends.) Jane Price, president of the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park, had heard that one of the regular Wednesday night ball-hockey players was a criminal lawyer named Peter Bawden, who has published and article on the use of "obstruction" charges. Jane called him up and he agreed to come to the park early before one of the ball hockey games, to meet with the park staff. He told the staff how to behave to make sure they were not obstructing police. He said, "make sure you don't stand behind an officer - understandably, that makes them nervous. Don't get any closer than two meters. [Our park staff person was clear on both of those counts.] Reassure the officer, repeatedly if necessary, that you will not get in their way. Explain that it's the practice of park staff to attend at any difficulty, and take along your clipboard. Don't say much at all unless you're asked, and then be very polite. [Our park staff aced that one as well.] It is the legal right of any citizen and certainly of park staff, to observe any actions of police. The charge of obstruction can only be laid if a person actually gets in the way of police to prevent them from carrying out their investigation, or if a person counsels a suspect to resist arrest. As long as you're only observing, you are breaking no law. "

This was nice to hear. And over the years we have found that the presence of an observer, when police come to the park, seems to help, in reducing (slightly) the random requests for I.D. which are frowned on in our democratic country, and putting a lid on the escalation of incidents. In the case of our park staff, watching also allows them to keep tabs on people who might be a genuine danger in our park. Direct observation of arrests is important because if there IS, later on, a conviction for a crime and the sentence includes court order banning the person from the park, park staff are never informed of such an order. (One of the many bits of slippage in the justice system.)

Peter Bawden also suggested it's always good to have a second person along when observing an incident (not more than that). That's because, when Jutta Mason made a complaint in May 2003 - she saw three bicycle police interrogating a black man near the rink house because he was talking on a cell phone a few days after some car thefts at the mall -- the police recall of the incident was very different than Jutta's recall. So if you are in the park and you see one of the staff, or a friend of the park, standing and watching such an incident, and you feel like coming over and watching too, that would be a help. When our staff person was pushed by the officer, there were several families watching with their children, and this resulted in some constructive conversation afterwards.

And if, despite all attempts to be respectful and careful, a staff person or a friend of the park is charged with obstruction for observing police incidents in the park, Peter Bawden says he'll defend them. For free. It seems that some lawyers get a little hot about citizens' rights in a democracy.

Parks and Recreation department policy on Staff/Police relations here (pdf) >>

posted March 4, 2004

Racial Profiling in the Park

A four part saga:

Dear Police Chief Fantino,

May 12, 2003

As I was leaving the Dufferin Grove Park clubhouse just after 10 p.m. on Sunday May 11, three police officers on bikes pulled up in front. One officer behaved in a way that was unacceptable and therefore I am writing to you.

A young black man was walking along the sidewalk beside the park and your officer stopped him and asked him for his name and address. The young man, understandably, did not wish to give it since he was simply walking along. The officer pressed him further, and even told him that if he had any problems with the questions he could contact a lawyer. At that point I stopped bagging the trash beside the clubhouse and stood nearer the scene. The officer asked me why I was standing there, and I told him I was watching because it appeared to me that he was just going fishing, and that I saw no reason why the young man was being questioned. Your officer told me to "go hug a tree." Funny.

I wanted to make sure I had heard right, and the officer repeated his instruction to me, more energetically. I told him that he had insulted me, and he told me, in return, that I had no idea how dangerous this area (i.e. my neighbourhood) is and that I should just let the police do their job. I said that stopping people for no reason is not their job. Another officer then told me that my neighbourhood (near Dufferin and Bloor, where house prices start at $300,000, where people have bidding wars to buy a house in the area) is one of the most dangerous parts of the city and police are just trying to make it safe.

At that point I became angry, and said that was nonsense. Meantime the young man left - as he evidently knew he had the right to do, the more so since a matronly white woman (me) was standing there watching. However, the officer and I continued to argue. The officer felt that I knew much less about the neighbourhood than the police and that he had more important things to do than listen to me; there had been car thefts at the mall and if they saw someone with a cell phone, they had the right and the duty to stop them in case they were planning a theft. (??!?)

So that, I guess, was the young black man's mistake - he had been walking along talking on his cell phone. At the same time, a white man was standing talking on the pay phone in front of the club house but he didn't look as suspicious, I guess, so he wasn't interrogated.

Well, sir, your officer has made me into a convert. I have not wanted to get on the "racial profiling" bandwagon. But this was one time too many that I have seen groups of your officers fishing at the park, overwhelmingly among the black youth. In your public statements, Chief Fantino, you have assured the citizens that you will control those officers who have a racial bias. But last night I saw no evidence of a new restraint: only one rude police officer questioning a black man walking, and ready to laugh at civil rights, with his two colleagues standing by, making no effort to stop the situation.

I will post this letter on our park web site (www.dufferinpark.ca) and on our bulletin boards. If you wish to respond, I would be pleased to post your response as well.

Jutta Mason

The letter resulted in a request for Jutta to come to Fourteen Division and be interviewed. This interview, which was taped, lasted over an hour and resulted in a formal police report complete with cover page, index and appendices.

Dear Police Chief Fantino,

August 8, 2003

Several months ago I wrote you a letter about an incident involving three police officers from Fourteen Division. This letter was interpreted as a complaint against P.C.Wayne Currie (6352) and I was asked to come to Fourteen Division, where two detectives (Det.Morgan Robinson as the lead) interviewed me. This interview was taped and excerpts from it and from statements by your officers were later sent to me as a report, complete with index and appendices (2003-EXT-0314.), and signed by Fourteen Division Supt. Glenn Paproski. At no time were the presidents of our group (Jane Price and I) able to speak with the officers directly, as we had requested.

As I told Det.Robinson on the phone, I disagree with certain central features of this report. However, I do NOT wish to carry the complaint up to the next complaint level. I feel that the first interview was not so useful that I can commit more time to your department's method of dealing with criticism.

However I would like to go on record that the investigation was not accurate and not helpful.

I am also enclosing a copy of the August Dufferin Grove Park Newsletter, which describes the investigation, as well as our long history of unsuccessfully seeking a workable relationship between our community group and Fourteen Division. Since your complaints-investigation staff do not make a good lawyer- judge- and jury combo, the chronicle of this sad situation has, as you see, returned to the court of public opinion.

However, if at any time your staff would like to have a real conversation about public order in our corner of public space - a conversation among equals, recognizing us as having the respect of our community, as well as elsewhere in Canada and beyond - we are ready and willing to talk in good faith.

Jutta Mason

cc. Supt.Glenn Paproski, Det.Morgan Robinson

Recently the new (since January) head of Fourteen Division, Superintendent Glenn Paproski, called after receiving a copy of our August newsletter from Chief Fantino's office. He said he liked the newsletter generally but was disturbed by its content relative to the police. He also said he wanted to come to the park, see it for himself, and talk about the whole matter. We look forward to his visit.

March 2004.... We're still waiting.

Content last modified on May 17, 2008, at 07:26 PM EST