2012 arrives and old police corruption trials are revisited

Last week, five former Toronto police drug squad officers appeared in court to address charges of theft, assault, perjury, extortion and conspiracy to obstruct justice by falsifying official police records. All have pleaded not guilty to what amounts to the biggest case of alleged police corruption in Canadian history, with the state having spent $14 million so far on investigations and prosecution.

The Department of Justice has suspended 200 criminal cases against accused drug dealers arrested by these officers between 1993 and 2003 until they can defend themselves against allegations of misconduct.

This defense has been delayed and rescheduled many times. John Sewell, former mayor of Toronto and administrator of Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC), commented that the strategy of the Toronto Police Service seems to be to “drag things out.”

In this respect, the defense has been successful because, over the years, witnesses have died or left the country and memories have faded to ambiguity.
However, the persistence of this police corruption trial is the result of a history of decisions made by the Canadian justice system which date back to January of 2004 when the chief of the RCMP led a Toronto Police Special Task Force against what was originally six corrupt police drug squad officers. What ensued was three years of investigations and gathering of information.

In 2008, all charges were suspended as they were seen as delays in prosecution and as infringing upon the officers’ rights to carry out their criminal cases. The ruling was taken to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2009 and the trial was set to continue for five of the six officers. Yet the accused believe they are victims of a “witch hunt” and have filed a $116 million counter-lawsuit asserting “malicious prosecution” and “abuse of process.”

Fast-forward to 2012 when the Crown has produced a witness named Christopher Quigley who claims drug officers beat him and stole tens of thousands of dollars from his mother’s safety deposit box during his arrest back in 1998. He also says that while he was in custody they tortured him for info about the location of his drug stash and profits in his house.

Defense lawyers grilled Mr. Quigley, a low-level marijuana dealer, in the second week of January and had his story criticized for inconsistencies, particularly how for long he was held in custody by the accused. The defense holds that Mr. Quigley was only in custody for a little over an hour however the Crown witness asserts he was beaten for “hours.”

This trial is good symbolically because it reaffirms our faith in our justice system. It is important for people to know that the people who are endowed with the responsibility and power to uphold our laws are also held to the same standards that they police in society.

On the other hand, the nature of how this case has evolved and how it has been delayed and impeded in its course of resolution these past years gives a good picture of the state of police accountability in Canada.

Junior Manon, an 18-year-old who resisted arrest when he was pulled over and suffocated when officers subdued him, and Adam Nobody, a G20 protester who was the victim of excessive force in Toronto in 2010, both owe their injustices to the same officer, Const. Michael Adams.

The three names have come up in the news this week, as family lawyer Julian Falconer will represent the family of Manon in a prosecution against Const. Adams for his “excessive use of force.”

Falconer’s argument tries to link Const. Adams’ involvement in Manon’s death on May 5, 2010 to his participation in Nobody’s arrest with four other officers in Queen’s Park only a few weeks later.

Const. Adams would thereby be understood to have, at least, be prone to using excessive force. This capability for certain individuals to be more “prone” to be excessive with their use of force is what I think the Department of Justice is trying to bring more attention to with the case of Mr. Quigley.

And yet, the Department of Justice is not alone in this mission to police the police as this week the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) has produced a report on Nobody’s takedown and is calling on Toronto police Chief Bill Blair to punish the five constables for their excessive force. However, the 172-page report sympathizes with the stressful conditions that officers had to endure with the chaotic protests.

Although it is wonderful that for the first time with the OIPRD we can officially identify the officers involved in Nobody’s arrest it does not go far enough in that OIPRD does not seek out any accountability for the actual placement of potentially violent officers like Const. Adams on the frontlines of G20 anti-riot squads.

The reality is that during the time that Const. Adams was assaulting Nobody in Queen’s Park he was also already under investigation for Manon’s death. Likewise, the reality is that although Mr. Quigley is a low-level marijuana dealer his crime pales in comparison to the conspiracy of five, arguably six, drug squad officers to torture “alleged” criminals, loot their homes and desperately cover up their tracks in a massive ordeal costing the state $14 million just to prosecute.

Chief Bill Blair must take responsibility for the safety of the residents of Toronto and do more to keep excessively violent, corrupt individuals off of the frontlines of his police force.

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