Monday, May 10, 1993

Rosie DiManno

p. A7.

Eng's legalese fails to mask lack of action

Susan Eng says there has to be a better way to discipline errant police officers. Well, she ought to know.

In the most famous case that comes to mind, it was not the "military style" of the system which failed, but the meek response by the civilians who are invested with the authority to render the tough decision.

It is curious that Eng, chair of the Metro Police Services Board, has initiated this debate in comments she made yesterday to the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards. One might almost think she prizes for the opportunity to mete out justice, unencumbered by the anachronistic trappings of a paramilitary institution.

Yet Eng and her cohorts on the Metro board ran for cover when they could have firmly rebuked Chief William McCormack for the despicable handling of the Gordon Junger affair, in which police made a secret deal to secure the constable's resignation after he was accused of running an escort service and being in possession of hashish.

And, more notably, for the inadequate and amoral response to the predicament of a prostitute who had been extorted into providing sex to an officer, under threat of arrest.

Frank D'Andrea, the lawyer who headed the exhaustive inquiry into the internal affairs unit of the police department which was prompted by these twin debacles, concluded that the service board had abrogated its responsibility as a civilian watchdog. The board could have, at the very least, exercised its mandate to interrogate the police chief about secret deals and bullying attitudes. But the board, then under the stewardship of June Rowlands, was acqulescent choosing wilful ignorance over informed consent or, preferably, a declarative rejection of shabby ethics.

Having committed these sins of omission, the board -- now under Susan Eng's leadership -- compounded its crime of complicity by declining the chance to more forcefully settle accounts.

Again, D'Andrea had clearly stipulated that the board had the authority to discipline the officers involved -- a group which must include McCormack. And again, the board elected to take only the most puny steps available to them.

In what Eng described yesterday as a "unanimous" decision, the board lectured McCormack behind closed doors in what is daintily described as "counselling" while six senior officers were given penalties ranging from a reprimand to the loss of three day's pay. Big diddly.

The Ontario Police Commission has since announced it will review McCormack's handling of the Junger scandal and whether the police services Board took strong enough disciplinary action. Such a review of a review of a review shouldn't be necessary and wouldn't be necessary if Eng et al. hadn't acted with such timidity.

So, pardon me, but it is difficult to now accept Eng as the dissident of record on what ails the policing profession when officers misbehave. From her observations at yesterday's assembly, and from remarks she made afterwards to reporters, it seems Eng is far more distracted by the Ontario Police Commission's review of the board itself.

"When we are being put under so much scrutiny, there has to be some standards that are articulated," she argued, adding that there are no standards for police boards who find themselves in a position of having to severely discipline a police chief.

Eng called on the Ontario Police Commission, government and the public to help establish those proposed standards of judgement. But she continued to ignore the fact that D'Andrea in his report stressed that these parameters of judgement already rest with the police boards.

Afterwards, Eng did not distance herself from the board's decision but she didn't exactly endorse it heartily either. "I'm obliged, as the chair of the board, to defend the board's decision. I think that there are limitations to the current structure. Certainly the degree of importance that is given to what we actually did... are different from what the general public would see as appropriate or needed under the circumstances. And I'm struggling with that."

Instead, Eng mused aloud about the possibility of a "contractual arrangement" between a police board and a police chief. "If there is a breach of those of those responsibilities under a contract, the contract is terminated."

That's a typical lawyer's response. And a cop-out from a civilian in Eng's position.

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Created: November 14, 1998
Last modified: November 14, 1998

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