Monthly Archives: April, 2015

“Better training”, “more oversight”, and other technical non-solutions to police brutality

In the aftermath of revelations of police brutality/corruption/violence/abuse/extortion/entrapment/[insert your choice of awful behaviour here], defenders of institutionalized oppression are often desperate to find some way of appeasing the angry masses without actually changing the deeply broken system which led to all the outrage to begin with.

These champions of the police, a group composed of politicians, police bureaucrats, P.R. flaks and pundits, as well as the arms dealers and prison operators who thrive on the criminalization of everyday life, are powerful but not very numerous. They therefore rely on arguments and policy changes which will appease and convince enough of the populace to either agree with them or at least stop actively resisting them, so that they can get away with not making meaningful changes.

There are many tried and tested strategies available to these people. One of the most effective is the appeal to prejudice, which is to say, fear.

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“Open nominations,” or, how to further destroy people’s faith in democracy

A seriously heavy run-down of allegations of interference in nomination contests across Canada

All current and past Liberal MPs may not like it, but they are going to have to fight in 2014 for the right to run in the next election, says Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

As the federal Liberals gear up to begin choosing candidates in the new year, Trudeau is warning that there are no safe seats or free passes for anyone who wants to wear the party banner in the 2015 campaign.

“Canadians need to see that the Liberal party has understood the lessons of the past and is willing to completely reboot,” Trudeau said in a year-end interview with the Star.

“We have to offer a full reboot, and that means that every candidate for the Liberal Party in 338 ridings in 2015, or whenever the election does come, will have been chosen in a free vote by the Liberal members of that riding.”

That’s what he said to the Toronto Star at the end of 2013, with the election a comfortably long ways in the future. And it was a well-received pledge because it was so common-sense, so reasonable. Of course party members should be able to choose their candidates locally – it’s practically tautological that in a representative democracy, the people should have the ability to choose who will represent them, that they shouldn’t have their options arbitrarily limited by outside forces. So Trudeau’s pledge was heartening, and I personally hoped it would help to set a standard for the other parties.

Fast forward two and a half months.

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Criminal ex-police chief Bill Blair will run for the Liberals

Civil liberties violator, racial profiler, and apologist for police brutality Bill Blair announced today in an exclusive interview with the Toronto Star that he will seek the nomination for the Liberal Party in Scarborough Southwest.

This is one of those times when I hate being right.

You may recall that last week I was sounding the alarm about a “grassroots initiative” led by “local Liberals” to “draft Bill Blair” to run in the upcoming federal election. It was transparently an astroturf group, but based on the respectful and widespread coverage it received, I concluded that it was essentially a beat-sweetener put forward by the Liberal Party to float the idea and get some same press. At the time I said:

So one could see this as the first step in what would essentially be a coronation of Blair as the candidate for Scarborough Southwest. And ultimately, that’s the way I’m reading this…I expect that we’ll hear something next weekend, when Blair is officially a civilian, if we’re ever gonna hear anything at all. In the meanwhile let’s all keep our fingers crossed that this is some kind of horrible nightmare.

And now here we are. I’m sad to say I’m not surprised that he’s made it official. There were a few surprises in the Star’s gushing piece, though: Continue Reading

Budget 2015 – lies, tricks, and barely veiled threats

I wrote several days ago about the massive disappointment which is the 2015 federal budget and its phony surplus. I’ve been doing a bit of digging since then and it’s worse than I initially realized, so I thought I’d do an update.

A lot of the commentary on the budget has focussed on the Conservatives’ use of $2 billion from the $3 billion contingency fund to make their modest $1.4 billion “surplus” possible. Incidentally, this is an accounting trick that former finance minister Jim Flaherty eschewed last year:

Updated figures in the [2014] budget show the Conservatives with a $2.9-billion deficit, just within the $3-billion contingency Flaherty has built in in case of major blows to Canada’s economy. The Finance Department upgraded its projected surplus for next year to $6.4 billion from $3.7 billion.

Flaherty defended his decision to err on the side of a deficit, saying Canada has carried a contingency fund for a long time and “it’s proven necessary quite frequently, so I think it would be imprudent not to do that.”

“If you do the arithmetic, we could have had a budget balanced by $100,000,” he said. “I prefer to have a nice clean surplus.”

Joe Oliver clearly has no such honest compunctions.

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Oh great, now we have a new budget in Ontario too?

The hits just keep on coming!

I went to the Globe’s site to read about the new budget, but how am I supposed to take anything they say seriously when their leading headline is: Nearly all of the Republican candidates are political heavyweights with a real shot at the Oval Office???

But I went ahead and read about the budget there and it was the same kind of horrible I’ve come to expect – cuts to nurses, to the disabled, to teachers, all so our deficit can be a little smaller. Not a word about tax hikes for the wealthy, or for corporations. All the savings were to be made by cuts to the working class.

And of course the parties’ spin doctors were ready with great soundbites for the occasion – because budgets are notoriously boring and really it’s a lot to expect the average person to even listen to a soundbite about it, I suppose. Andrea Horwath had the zinger of the day:

“No matter where you look, it’s like Kathleen Wynne is implementing Tim Hudak’s agenda.”

Zing! A real knee-slapper, eh? That quote’s probably gonna win the day!

For all the good it does.

It’s hard for me to work up a huge sense of outrage about this because I’m just kinda shocked. What Horwath said was kinda true – as I read the initial reports I was reminded of the bad old days of Mike Harris. Cuts to teacher and nurses and the unemployed? It’s like the nineties are back, except the boy bands are shittier this time around.

And I thought back to last fall’s election, how voters everywhere were running scared of Timmy Hudak, and there was good ol’ Kathleen Wynne, arms spread wide, saying you’d be safe with her.

The spin doctors won big that day too.

For all the good it did.

The Curious Case of the #PhonySurplus

Here’s the headline Stephen Harper & Co wanted to see following today’s budget announcement:


Strictly speaking, this is an accurate assessment of the budget – but only because of creative accounting.

Which is to say, the government is lying.

The $1.4 billion surplus announced by Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver a few hours ago relies on a few tricks. First of all, the government is withdrawing $2 billion from the federal contingency fund.

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Quick note on Mark Saunders’ appointment as TPS chief

It wasn’t my intention to make this a blog about police issues, but looking back at my first few posts, it seems that’s pretty much all I’ve been talking about. Whoops!

I hope you’ll bear with me while I do one more. Shortly after last night’s post about carding, news leaked that the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) has  selected a new chief, 32-year force veteran Mark Saunders, who will be the first black Chief of Police in Toronto’s history

The CBC had a pretty representative write-up of the story. The fact that Saunders is the first black chief came early in the story, as did the issue of carding:

The chief designate spoke about the importance of good relations with the city’s many cultural communities.

“[They] deserve … a police force that is bias-free and whose members treat everybody with respect and dignity,” Saunders told reporters.

“You have my promise that I’ll do everything in my power to provide that. Community relationships determine the success or failures of our service. I do not take this lightly.”

Both Saunders and the CBC are lightly and deftly dancing around mentioning the very specific and concrete accusations of systemic bias against African-Canadian communities by the Toronto Police Services. The CBC takes extreme measures in this regard:

The carding policy was originally part of a community outreach program intended to improve ties between the police service and marginalized communities. The effect has largely been the opposite, spurring greater distrust and forcing police to re-evaluate the policy altogether.

By “marginalized communities” they mean people of colour.

Just in case you weren’t sure about the coded language. Continue Reading

Carding – how about we just stop doing it?

Just a thought.

I mean, there’s a “reasonable policy debate” at the moment about what restrictions should apply to police when they stop totally innocent people and collect information on them which sits in some TPS database for we don’t really know how long. Should cops be obliged to tell the (mostly young black male) people they harass that they’re under no obligation to stay put? Should the (not actually being detained) detainees be given a “receipt” detailing the interaction, or just an officer’s business card on request?

Or how about we just scrap the whole racist train wreck of a program?

The above-linked op-ed by Marcus Gee of the Globe and Mail tries really really hard to make this seem like a two-sided issue, but it ain’t.

The board and the police chief, Bill Blair, were at loggerheads for months on how to reform carding. The board worried that it was souring relations with minorities, given that men of colour showed up in disproportionate numbers in carding statistics compiled in a series of articles in the Toronto Star. The chief worried that ending or severely restricting it would prevent police from gathering useful information.

Both concerns are valid. Any city wants at all costs to avoid conflict between police and minority or disadvantaged groups. But it also wants cops to be able to get out in the city and do their job.

Chief Blair said on Friday that he doesn’t want his officers just hanging around the station “waiting for a radio call to say some catastrophe’s happened” then going out to put yellow tape around the scene. Instead, he wants his officers to hit the streets to make contact with the public, build trust with the community and gather information that might help solve or prevent crimes.

Shorter Blair: We need to coerce information out of communities of colour because they’re a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Like, that’s literally what he’s saying. We need to collect information on people of colour because they’re criminals, or potential criminals, or they know criminals.

And we really are talking about communities of colour here. A lot of news reports make it sound like a matter of opinion. The Globe in particular is tone-deaf on this one – in a summary of Blair’s last police board meeting, Selena Ross writes that carding “is thought to affect minorities disproportionately”. Robyn Doolittle uses identical language in a recent article on the search for a new chief. The phrasing makes it seem like there’s room for debate.

There isn’t.

In late 2013, you were seventeen times more likely to be stopped by police in certain neighbourhoods if you were black than if you were white. Seventeen times. That’s not a thought. That’s a fact.

And it’s facts like that which has led affected communities to label carding terrorism against their community, and to call for the repeal of carding, or at least requiring officers to proactively inform people of their Charter rights at the outset of any encounter.

Let’s stop pretending like this is a hard question. Cops aren’t able to point to any tangible benefits carding has brought. It was initially designed to be an outreach program in minority communities but looks like that didn’t work out too great, did it?

So how about we just scrap the whole thing? Admit it was a terrible idea and tell the cops to stop hassling people of colour whenever they feel bored?

Just a thought.

Bill Blair for Parliament? A deep dig into this horrifying story

When news of the campaign to draft outgoing Toronto Chief of Police Bill Blair to run for the Liberals in Scarborough showed up on my Twitter feed a few days ago, I literally could not believe it. My first thought was that it had to be some kind of joke, or hoax – maybe somebody was out to make the Liberal Party look bad. (Not exactly a difficult task these days.)

Sadly, the deeper I dug, the more substance this story seemed to have. There is indeed a campaign to draft Blair, whose last day as Chief is April 25, to run in the riding of Scarborough Southwest. But there are also a lot of unanswered questions from the media coverage so far, the most pressing of which is: Who is behind this ridiculous effort? It’s hard to say for certain, but my best guess is that the campaign is an astroturf effort by the Liberal Party.

Before we go any further, a brief recap is in order. Blair’s been Chief at TPS for almost ten years now, and his tenure has been marked by a series of controversies and major abuses of power. The biggest unmitigated disaster of Blair’s time as Chief was unquestionably the G20 summit in 2010, when well over a thousand people were arrested and held without charge in horrific temporary prisons. It was the largest peacetime mass arrest in Canadian history, and it was totally indiscriminate.

Blair characterized protesters as “terrorists sweeping through our city“, responded to video evidence of a half-dozen officers violently beating an unarmed protestor (who was charged with assaulting police) by saying the video had been tampered with, and has remained adamant in insisting he’s proud of the work the force did that weekend, resisting calls to resign at the time and ever since. Testimony of his subordinates has made clear that Blair was a driving force behind the mass arrests, but he has been treated with impunity by the justice system.

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RCMP devote 240 officers to entrapping two incompetent stoners, then complain they don’t get enough funding

So last week I was walking past a Toronto Star newspaper box, which I literally can’t do without checking the headline. This particular day the Star was whinging about the RCMP and its supposedly inadequate anti-terrorism funding, which at the time I thought was just a straightforwardly transparent attempt by the Mounties to get more money out of a government which is flogging the terror issue to death. (Hopefully that’s not a too-insensitive metaphor.)

But since then some of my reading has gotten me to digging further, and I’ve had to revise my initial impression. The Star was indeed pushing for more cash for the Mounties’ anti-terror programs, but they were also quite slickly drawing attention away from the actual content of those programs.


The gist of it is that the RCMP whined to Parliament earlier this year that they were bearing the main brunt of funding an inter-agency anti-domestic terrorism program known as INSET (Integrated National Security Enforcement Team). Their contributions towards this program have increased by more than 3200% in the last twelve years while the federal government’s input has remained constant, not even adjusting for inflation. The result of this funding shortfall is that the Mounties have had to transfer resources and staff – over 600 staff! – from other areas of focus into domestic counter-terrorism operations. The article specifically references resources being transferred away from investigating economic crime, i.e. banks and hedge funds screwing over us common folk, as well as organized crime. The Star, being the loyal Liberal rag it is, doesn’t delve into this angle, but instead tries to make this a strictly partisan issue:
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