Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Gay Abbate, Timothy Appleby

p. A19.

City to check legality of police fundraising drive

'We've done nothing wrong,' union president declares; 'the money is pouring in' to telephone campaign

A hard-edged telemarketing drive by the Toronto Police Association stirred outrage across the city yesterday. As an investigation was launched into its legality, the union appeared unrepentant.

"We've done nothing wrong. We welcome the call for a legal opinion," union president Craig Bromell said last night in response to action taken earlier in the day by the Toronto Police Services Board.

On behalf of the board, its chairman Norm Gardner, asked the city's legal department and a Toronto law firm for legal opinions on whether the union's hard-edged fundraising drive, the first of its kind in Canada, violates any section of the Police Services Act, the provincial legislation that governs police conduct.

Also yesterday, a lawyers' group called on the police board and Toronto Police Chief David Boothby to rein in the union.

Mr. Bromell, a tough-minded figure who has steered the union toward U.S.-style police militancy, appeared unfazed by yesterday's developments and said the uproar had spurred donations. "The money is pouring in, thanks to the free publicity. We had the best fundraising day ever today," he said.

The union itself struck out yesterday against former police commissioner Judy Sgro, an outspoken critic of the association. It plans to sue her for "significant damages" over remarks she made in September, 1998, at a meeting between the board and the union's directors.

Ms. Sgro, who is now Liberal member of Parliament for York West, rebuked the union at that meeting for its plans to attack politicians it deemed to be hostile to the police, saying the tactic "reminds me of something you'd see in Louisiana, where you dare not ask the police anything or you'll be found dead in the back of a car a week later."

Ms. Sgro later apologized.

While voicing general support for Mr. Bromell and the union, incoming Police Chief Julian Fantino has made clear that the current climate of antagonism bothers him.

"I don't think the public care to hear about all this harangue, fingerpointing and confrontation," he said in a recent interview.

The Police Services Board wants the lawyers to determine whether the Police Services Act allows the union to raise funds through telephone solicitation. the Law Union of Ontario which represents about 300 lawyers with an interest in using the law for social change, says that under the legislation the union is guilty of misconduct.

Mr. Bromell says the members of the union executive do not act as police officers during their terms at the union and therefore the regulations do not apply.

The fundraising drive, dubbed Operation Blue, is being carried out by Xentel DM Inc., a North York based telemarketing firm with offices across Canada and the United States and gross revenue last year of approximately $44-million.

About 20 people are making calls on the union's behalf in the daytime, corporate developments director Len Wolstenholm said, and double that number in the evening.

Now in its fourth week, the campaign has been a striking success with about $250,000 pledged, Mr. Wolstenholme said last week. (Usually between 50 and 60 per cent of money pledged actually materializes, he added.)

Respondents are offered a choice of three "packages," — gold, in return for a $100 donation, silver, for $50, or bronze for $25. Donors receive a letter acknowledging them as union supporters.

They get decals for their cars denoting their level of support.

The decals have led to the suggestion of selective law enforcement since the degree of generosity to the union would be instantly identifiable to police.

Lawyer Howard Morton, speaking on behalf of the Law Union, told a news conference yesterday that officers might be tempted to ignore a driver's traffic offences if they see a sticker. "It's only human nature to do so," he said.

A separate fundraising campaign later this year will sell advertising in a special once-a-year Toronto Police Association magazine.

Mr. Gardner told a news conference yesterday that he is not "in favour" of the campaign and especially the decals.

Part of the controversy over the fundraising is how the money will be used. Mr. Bromell said the union will use some to fight for changes to the Young Offenders Act, but that a chunk would go to supporting politicians who favour law and order.

Mr. Gardner said yesterday Mr. Bromell has assured him that the funds would not be used to oppose candidates the union believes do not stand for law and order.

Mr. Bromell reiterated last night that in fact Mr. Gardner is wrong. "We will use some of the money against people we don't want in office," he said.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 7, 2000
Last modified: October 7, 2000
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