Monday March 6, 2000

Robert Benzie

Police board can't seek donations either: union

Choppers for Coppers: True Blue supporters say civilian overseers not playing fair

The Toronto Police Services Board's controversial scheme to fund patrol helicopters with public donations will be challenged by the officer's union in the Operation True Blue court battle, legal documents show.

According to an affidavit filed with the Ontario Divisional Court and obtained by the National Post, the civilian agency that oversees the police force will face serious questions over its own fundraising practices later this spring.

The Toronto Police Association — which reluctantly abandoned its contentious Operation True Blue telemarketing campaign shortly before a court-ordered injunction banned the union from raising money for political purposes — plans to question its political masters for "a very public campaign to raise money from the public to purchase police helicopters."

Sworn testimony from Andrew Clarke, the association's director of uniform field services, notes that the board has not shied away from asking citizens for money.

"In April, 1999, (David Boothby, the chief of police) commenced a campaign called 'Choppers for Coppers' to raise $1-million from sponsors within the government, corporate and public sectors in order to fund a pilot project for police helicopters," Mr. Clarke testified in his affidavit.

"I understand that individuals who made contributions… were issued tax receipts indicating the amount of their donations," he continued.

Mr. Clarke's statements are part of the associations's legal action against the police services board over a bylaw that prohibits the union from fundraising for political purposes.

The bylaw was hurriedly passed in January to counter Operation True Blue, a telephone-solicitation fundraiser that rewarded donors with windshield decals. Opponents of the campaign felt the stickers were, in effect, "getting-out-of-jail-free" cards.

Both sides will be in court on June 5. Until then, an interim court injunction against operation True Blue imposed by Justice Warren Winkler on Feb. 11 remains in effect.

Told of the association's charges by the Post, Tom Jakobek, the city budget chief, acknowledged that the police services board could have a rough ride in court over the helicopter fundraising.

"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," said Mr. Jakobek, who is currently in negotiations with the force over its request for a $538.1-million operating budget this year.

"You could argue that they're as guilty as the association," he said. "But I must say that the association took a much more aggressive position and the purpose of the money was quite different. The police services board wants to use the money to augment their service, whereas the union was basically using it (to further its political interests)."

Still, Mr. Jakobek maintained he has grave concerns about the appropriateness of initiatives such as "Choppers for Coppers."

"The police services board will have to look carefully at what it does and make sure it swallows its own medicine," he warned.

"I personally don't want to see the police department or any other emergency service out begging the public for money. If we need (a helicopter) and it's proven that we need it, we'll pay for it ourselves."

In his affidavit, Mr. Clarke also points out that distributing decals with an association emblem is no different from the force selling police paraphernalia at its headquarters.

"The (police) services board has at their premises at 40 College Street, permitted the sale to the public of hats, shirts and other pieces of clothing which depict the police services logo," he said.

"I know of no allegation that any member of the public believes, or even suspects, that the sale of police equipment to the public creates the reality or perception that preferential treatment is being bought together with the merchandise."

Defending the union's stickers, Mr. Clarke said "any suggestion that a member of the public could 'purchase' preferential treatment by acquiring any article of clothing or other indicator of police support is absurd."

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 8, 2000
Last modified: October 8, 2000
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