Sammy Yatim's unfortunate death at the hands of police in Toronto is an extreme example of police behaviour that goes unchecked in this country. It is only when police action leads to death as in this case and in the case of Robert Dziekanski who was tasered by RCMP officers in Vancouver a few years ago that there is an outcry. There are others and our politicians stand by and hide.
Douglas Brown, a man with schizophrenia in Burlington Ontario, has just launched a $750,000 law suite against the Halton Regional Police, its chief, five of its officers, Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington and two of its staff. Mr Brown was beaten and tasered by five cops in the emergency room at Joseph Brant on December 15, 2010. He was then charged with assault and attempting to grab a police officer's weapon.
As a result of the police action, Mr. Brown had burns and lacerations on his body from the multiple applications of the taser, facial bruises and injuries including a black eye and nosebleed and neck pain. Mr. Brown was found not guilty of the charges against him and the trial judge, Justice Stephen D. Brown, stated:
"The inexorable conclusion that many, if not all, of the witnesses that testified before me ... were at best confused or mistaken, or at worst being untruthful in their evidence."
He went on to say that the testimony of Sergeant Stephen Carroll, who applied the Taser, "appears to be given untruthfully and other officers on the scene unwillingly or willingly appear to be a part of this cover up."
Of the testimony by Sgt. Carroll, the senior police sergeant, the judge concluded that he "was not giving truthful evidence when he testified that he did not deploy the Taser to Mr. Brown's back or to his groin," as generated by the data from the Taser software itself. The judges complete decision can be read here.
When a judge rules that police officers lied in their testimony, the matter is supposed to be referred to the Crown Attorney's Office for investigation. It is not clear if that was done in Brown's case as the Attorney General's Department told me that "the Ministry does not comment on the results of any such review." However, the Halton Regional Police Chief, Stephen Tanner, ordered an internal review according to a report in the Law Times. It concluded the officers "were justified in their actions" and "were not untruthful in their testimony." The Law Times was also told by a spokesman for Halton police that the Crown didn't refer the matter for further investigation.
So, who are we to believe -- the judge who listened to all the testimony and whose decisions along with his reasoning can be found online, or a police chief and Crown Attorney who say the opposite but provide no details?
Since the police and the Crown Attorney come under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Government, I tried to get some answers from Kathleen Wynne, the premier. She had initially ignored my email of June 3, so I called her office and left a message with details for Kelly Baker, her media staff person. Ms. Baker replied by email with this comment from a press conference the premier gave on Monday, July 29:
"I think there is more that we need to do in terms of support for people with mental health issues. And I think it's extremely important, whatever program we're talking about, whether we're talking about housing or whether we're talking about employment programs, that we understand that sometimes, mental health issues can create barriers to success. So part of our mental health strategy has to be integrated with these other programs."
I replied that this does not answer my concerns and that I want to know why investigations into accusations of police lying are conducted in secret with no reports made to the public and exactly who it is who polices the police?
Her answer was, "The Premier's office is unable to comment on specific cases, however I will refer your questions to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services for follow-up."
I then heard from Maria Lamani, the legislative assistant to the minister who gave me the procedures that are supposed to be employed but who concluded "The ministry of the Attorney General will not be commenting on any specific case."
I replied with "Thank you but, if a judge states that police officers lied, does the public not have a right to know more than 'we investigated and they did not lie.' The Crown allegedly conducted a review which no one can see and concluded that the police were only guilty of poor note keeping. The hospital, at least, is conducting an independent review and plans to make it public.
"Would the minister like to make a statement on the lack of transparency? The premier refuses to."
I have been referred to another official at another Ministry and have had no response.
Who is in charge? We elect politicians to govern but, in this case, they seem to be missing in action. And, for the record, my initial email to premier Wynne was also sent to the leader of the opposition, Tim Hudak, the leader of the NDP, Andrea Horvath, the two health critics, Chrisine Elliott and France Gelinas, and my own member, Ted McMeekin. No one responded.
Only the hospital, Joseph Brant in Burlington, seems concerned as they have called in outside experts to review their procedures and, according to their lawyer, Joshua Liswood, they do plan to make the report public.
Until such time as our politicians get into the act and control those few out of control officers, we can expect more Sammy Yatims and more Douglas Browns. And, to set the record straight, I have personal experiences with police being involved with persons with serious mental illnesses and they have all been very positive. I've heard the same from others.