August 20 - 26, 1998, Vol. 17, No. 51

Scott Anderson

p. 27.

Tories reading axe for cop watchdog?

Sympathy over cop's death, union ads give Tories PR opening

Attorney general Charles Harnick's recent dressing down of the police watchdog special investigation unit (SIU) is a telling indication of where the troubled agency may be headed.

Making policing reformers especially nervous in a meeting Harnick held recently with Toronto Police Association head Craig Bromell and the union's main legal eagle, Gary Clewey.

A recent ad placed by the union on the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun attacked the SIU for "going after the police for doing their job as we were trained to do it," after two officers were charged with dangerous driving in a high-speed pursuit that ended with the death of a 73-year-old cyclist.

The usually measured Harnick joined in the bashing by saying that he had "never been particularly pleased about the operation" of the civilian agency, even though he's been overseeing it for the last three years.

Minds meeting

The comments are also a far cry from the words of praise and hands-off approach Harnick took while recently departed former director Andre Marin was running things.

The AG's transparent attempt to cozy up to the cops would be laughable -- it came amid the public outcry surrounding the funeral of slain detective constable Bill Hancox -- if it weren't for that meeting he had with Bromell and Clewley last week.

According to one insider close to both the Tories and the police union, Bromell is miffed that Harnick has taken so long to reform the SIU to the cops' liking -- in other words, water is down -- and deal with rules around police pursuits.

Bromell is unavailable for comment and Clewley won't get into the specifics of what was discussed with Harnick.

"I would call that a meeting of the minds," says Clewley. But one thing's for sure. There was talk of who should head the agency when interim director Leslie Chapin leaves in about two months.

careful not to leave the impression that there's arm-twisting going on, Clewley says potential candidates were discussed, but that "it's his (Harnick's) call. There's no suggestion that we got any kind of say in what happens. Lord knows, there's evidence for that. Look at the charges against the guys. So much for any clout."

Clewley adds that the latest ad campaign is just the beginning. Indeed, the next target of union ads will be politicians critical of police.

"The SIU's walking around without accountability, and we intend to fix it," he says.

Staying on

No one in Harnick's or the premier's office was available for comment. At the SIU's Front Street offices, meanwhile, Chapin is keeping a brave face -- even though changes to improve the SIU proposed in a report by former judge George Adams seems to be collecting dust.

She says a committee has been meeting once a week since May in an effort to implement the report's recommendations. Those recommendations include increasing funding for the agency and spelling out in law the police duty to cooperate, the issue that's been at the centre of the most continuos police -- SIU conflicts. But there's been no movement yet.

Chapin says she'd like to stay on at the SIU and that she's also not troubled by the AG's recent comments, which she believes were taken out of context.

However, her recent decision to charge the two cops with dangerous driving, and Harnick's newfound affinity for the cops, may indicate he's girding to go in a different direction.

Former AG Marion Boyd, who took the brunt of Harnick's SIU criticism while the NDP was in power, wonders about it all. "What is he doing, and why is he making these kind of statements when he is in charge?" she asks.

More about Public Complaints... [Fiona Stewart]

Created: February 14, 1999
Last modified: February 14, 1999

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