Thursday, February 3, 2000

John Duncanson

p. A1.

Police board kills secret deal to end its battle with union

Tory minister and judge set up meeting of True Blue opponents

A secret plan hatched by a judge and Ontario's top cop to end the showdown over the Toronto police union's True Blue campaign has been scuttled by police board members determined to battle it out in court.

Just hours before the legal fight was to get started yesterday, the police board was told of the meeting between union head Craig Bromell, police board chair Norm Gardner and vice-chair Jeff Lyons, which began late Tuesday and ran into the early morning hours.

Gary Clewley, the union's lawyer, also took part in the often tense talks.

Although a deal was reached, not all police board members were aware of the meeting and were angry it wasn't handled through proper legal channels.

The six-hour discussion at the Royal York hotel was chaired by Judge George Adams, a skilled negotiator best known for his 1998 report that led to significant changes in how the province's special investigations unit works.

Ontario Solicitor-General David Tsubouchi personally brought the two sides together; he left the meeting after making his views known to both parties.

Though it's clear the solicitor-general's office is now involved in the dispute, Premier Mike Harris continued to play down the province's concern over the controversy.

"It's a local matter," Harris said yesterday when asked about the telemarketing campaign. "This has not been a problem anywhere but in Toronto."

The deal reached at the Royal York would have immediately stopped the campaign — in which telemarketers have been calling citizens to solicit money for police union causes — while it was reviewed by the union over the next 90 days.

But the agreement was killed at a closed-door police board meeting just an hour before lawyers began arguing the merits of legal challenges launched by both sides in the True Blue battle this week.

Mr. Justice Warren Winkler decided yesterday to wait until Monday to hear an application for an injunction to stop the union campaign. The injunction is being sought by the police board and Chief David Boothby.

The Superior Court judge refused to hear a police association request for a judicial review of a police board bylaw banning the campaign in tandem with the injunction request. He sent that matter back to Division Court.

Court battle begins after board rejects deal

Several organizations gave Winkler notice they wish to join the court battle, including the Canadian Police Association, the Ontario Police Association, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, the Chinese Canadian Council and the Law Union of Ontario.

Had the deal reached at the Royal York gone through, the bylaw would have been rescinded and the association would have been allowed to continue fundraising after the 90-day review as long as it was made clear to donors what the money was to go towards.

Sources say both sides at the hotel meeting agreed the bylaw likely violated provisions of the Police Services Act, which states that police associations can collect funds from citizens.

Gardner was clearly disappointed the deal wasn't accepted and said he will continue to try and get the province to help negotiate an end to the stalemate.

"The solicitor-general convened a meeting with a facilitator to see if there was some way to stop this war that's going on between the police board and the police association," he said. "My board would not agree to some of the principles that had been worked out."

City Councillor Olivia Chow, a police board member, said the board had no choice but to reject the deal. "All the negotiations should be done through the lawyers," she said. "It could jeopardize the court case."

Chow later called the deal "totally unacceptable because it capitulates to bullying and intimidation… the illegal activities of the telemarketing plan.

"In exchange for stopping the illegal fundraising scheme, the board was told we must suspend our bylaw which is totally unacceptable."

Despite angry words at the hotel meeting over who was right, both sides had agreed to avoid a lengthy and costly court battle. It appears now that is unavoidable.

Union sources say they feel painted in a corner and will have no choice but to fight it out in court, which the union warns will be costly to taxpayers.

"We felt it was a win-win situation for everybody that would have put their concerns at ease and enabled us to continue to fight for the rights of (crime) victims and their families and enable us to continue lobbying," a union source said.

Yesterday's court challenges were the culmination of more than a week of mudslinging, threats and legal wrangling between the union and its opponents.

The first salvo was fired last week when the union threatened to sue its old nemesis — former city councillor Judy Sgro after the recently elected MP (York West) claimed the union intimidated her when she was a police services board member.

Sgro's comments came amid growing opposition to the telemarketing campaign.

The union says Operation True Blue is a law-and-order campaign which raises money to promote tougher penalties for young offenders and parole violators.

Critics say it's a front for the union to build up its war chest, which is primarily used to fund spy activities against its critics, mainly politicians. The union has said it won't use the money to go after politicians.

A day after the union announced its action against Sgro, Boothby threatened disciplinary action against union executives.

That same day, the police board decided to let Mayor Mel Lastman negotiate a truce with the union, but that didn't go over well with outraged councillors.

They held an emergency meeting last Thursday and ordered the board to take legal action against the union.

The outspoken Lastman finds himself in the peculiar position of not being able to comment because of a possible conflict of interest: His son's law firm is fighting the police board injunction on behalf of the union.

Lastman was to hear this morning whether he can wade back into the debate, Winkler decided yesterday.

But first his lawyer, George Rust-D'Eye, has to convince Winkler he can make a ruling on a possible conflict by Lastman sometime in the future.

There has been no complaint of conflict of interest by the mayor, Rust-D'Eye said after the brief hearing. But Lastman is worried about Section 3 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, which transfers "the pecuniary interest of the child" to the father, the lawyer said.

"It is an unusual situation. The only way for Mayor Lastman to test it, is to go ahead and say something and then have it challenged." If he is wrong "he could end up getting tossed out of office," the lawyer said.

Even as the court proceeding got under way yesterday, the union was trying to get word out to its members not to lose faith. It issued a statement reminding them that many of the wage and legislative victories it has scored lately have been due to political lobbying.

Lobbying which led to legislative changes to the province's special investigations unit, favourable to police was one of the successes noted.

Union officials also trumpeted their success in getting new patrol cars and changes to officer's pensions, which let them retire earlier with full benefits.

Included in the package is the transcript the union says has been used by telemarketers since the True Blue campaign began in September. The script contains references to the controversial decal program which the union scrapped this week.

Critics said the car stickers, which came in gold, silver and bronze depending on the donation, set a dangerous precedent because they could influence whether or not an officer ticketed a True Blue supporter.

But the telemarketing script contains a disclaimer about this notion. It states: "While your support does not buy any special privileges from law enforcement officers, it does identify you as a special kind of citizen: one who supports your local police and better law enforcement."

Above the script, there is also a warning, which is not read on the phone, and is only for the telephone solicitor's information.

It says federal and provincial law calls for severe penalties for tele-sales misrepresentations and warns that the calls may be monitored or recorded.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

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