Friday, February 4, 2000

John Duncanson

p. A1.

'Bullying' police union blasted by Lastman

Mayor vents anger after True Blue campaign called off

The defiant leaders of the Toronto police union have backed down and announced they are putting an end to their controversial telemarketing campaign.

News of yesterday's about-face brought relief to many, but there was only anger in Mayor Mel Lastman's voice as he stood up at city council and blasted the union for creating a crisis.

"There is no way this police union executive is going to hold our city hostage," said Lastman, who urged rank-and-file officers to get rid of the entire union executive.

"I'm a strong supporter of the police. They do a tough job but the union has gone overboard. The bullying and the intimidation by the union has got to stop."

Lastman called the union's change of heart "far too little far too late."

The union revealed yesterday that the Operation True Blue phone campaign has been shut down since last Friday, although there was no announcement of the decision and the public believed the campaign continued.

The union vowed to press on with its legal challenges to a police services board by-law, passed last week, that bans the union from soliciting funds for political reasons.

'We can get involved in politics if we want'

"I think what happened was that with so many different people getting involved, it became totally confusing . . . our message was getting lost," said Craig Bromell, president of 7,000-member Toronto Police Association.

"The main issue remains — the fact that we feel we can lobby and get involved in political activities if we want."

The decision to end the campaign officially yesterday came after another day of legal manoeuvring. In the end, police union officials saw that, no matter what they said, the situation kept getting worse.

The image of an emotional Deputy Chief Bob Kerr saying on television Wednesday that he feared the union only heaped more grief on association officials who insist Kerr's fears are unfounded.

Bromell said his union has tried to reach a compromise several times, but each effort has been rejected by the board.

The association didn't want to make the taxpayers foot the bill for a series of protracted legal fights, Bromell said, and hopes it can negotiate a compromise on the board's new by-law.

Over the past few days, Bromell has endured a barrage of personal attacks by politicians and the media.

"My job is to protect police officers and I'll do that at all costs, even if it means personal suffering," said Bromell, whose three-year term as elected president of the police association ends in November.

"I think the members are much more educated now about what we have to deal with than they were a few years ago."

The union had maintained that Operation True Blue was a law-and-order telemarketing campaign that raised money to promote tougher penalties for young offenders and parole violators.

Critics said it was nothing more than a front for the union to build up its war chest, which is used primarily to fund spy activities against those who disagree with the association, particularly politicians.

News that the campaign was over was greeted with relief from politicians, who were becoming increasingly worried the situation was spinning out of control.

"Hallelujah!" was the response from Norm Gardner, chair of the police services board. "I'm very pleased, very glad by this development," said Gardner, who said he still will be seeking legal advise, given that the union is still challenging the by-law.

"Well, I'm glad they have taken the first step," said city councillor and board member Olivia Chow (Downtown). "This is good faith. This is reasonable, they finally understand the public's opinion and they are finally obeying the chief's order.

"Take the next step, however, and withdraw your court case against the chief and the board and don't challenge the bylaw because the citizens have said, Get out of politics."

Judy Sgro, the former city councillor and police board member who has carried on a public fight with the union for years, said it's about time politicians came together to stop the association's aggressive tactics.

"I'm really glad they have done this," said Sgro, now the MP for York West. "They have finally listened to the people of this city."

Chief David Boothby said last night he wasn't going to comment on the latest development until today, when he's likely to announce he won't pursue disciplinary charges against members of the union executive for possibly violating conditions of the board's by-law.

Bringing charges may prove difficult since the union revealed it stopped the campaign last Friday, just after the by-law was put in place.

While the union's apparent change in policy was welcomed yesterday, it may not end the controversy that has been growing in intensity for the past two weeks.

Yesterday it was revealed that Ontario Solicitor-General David Tsubouchi had stepped into the fray when he brought in a mediator to end the dispute.

For six hours on Tuesday night, retired Judge George Adams listened to Bromell battle it out with Gardner and police services board vice-chair, Jeff Lyons. Also present for the talks was union lawyer Gary Clewley.

The union agreed to end the True Blue campaign and not resume any fundraising for at least 90 days. In return, the board would rescind the by-law banning the union from telemarketing.

But the deal was killed the next day when the majority of police services board members voted against it and ordered lawyers to continue with plans for an injunction. Legal arguments over that issue were to begin next week.

Then on Wednesday night, Deputy Chief Bob Kerr, told the CBC's the fifth estate that he was told that the union had damaging information about him and was planning to expose the tough-talking commander unless he retired by March.

The allegation is now being investigated by the police's Internal Affairs department.

Premier Mike Harris says he did not know Tsubouchi had intervened in the dispute. The meeting took place before Harris said Wednesday that he would be leaving it to local officials to resolve.

"I didn't know he was doing this by the way, which is fine," Harris said in Quebec city, where he was attending a premiers conference. "He felt it is 100 per cent local issue and as the province does in many of these issues, we provide mediators to assist."

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

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