February 4 - 10, 1999. Vol. 18, No. 23

Enzo Di Matteo

p. 21.

Grunt at the top

How did a cop who couldn't move up the ranks become such a powerful police union boss?

Those who didn't know police union prez Craig Bromell before his rise to prominence have been trying to figure how a street cop who couldn't pass muster -- he hasn't risen above the rank of constable in 21 years on the force -- has managed to turn the Toronto police association into one of the most belligerent in the country.

Part of his success can be chalked up to good advise. Bromell has surrounded himself with the best government and public-relations consultants money can buy.

But most of it has to do with his brass balls and an almost psychotic disregard for the subtleties of union politics.

"You gotta remember, I came from literally being a nobody," he confesses to me on the phone this week. "I got thrown into the spotlight and I've never got used to it." Bromell's self-deflation comes as a bit of a revelation.

After all, this is the same guy who's promised the sue anybody, politicians and media types alike, who dares to get in the union's way; who's threatened ad campaigns against critics; whose association has hired private dicks to conduct probes of the police watchdog special investigations unit; and whose stock in trade is intimidation pure and simple.

This is the single-handed nemesis of police reform and civilian control. But does he actually have the clout to move the players around the board?

Last week, when it looked like vice-chair of the police services board Judy Sgro -- the only member of the lap-dog body with the courage to criticize police actions -- was going down in a crude coup attempt, everyone assumed the long arm of Bromell had been at work. For one thing, he wasn't present.

That , in and of itself, says he didn't like the optics of being seen at the meeting where Tory fundraiser and lawyer/lobbyist Jeff Lyons was supposed to unseat Sgro.

Then there's the fact that Lyons backed down at the last minute and left the feisty councillor who's compared Toronto police to racist southern cops safe in her post.

Is that evidence that the pudgy union honcho couldn't call the play? Or was he even in the game? Bromell denies any tampering in this strange scenario.

"It's beyond BS," he says flatly. "It just never happened. If we wanted to get involved, believe me..."

But maybe it's getting to the point where he doesn't have to do anything, and still shit happens.

Cop on beat comes in from the cold

"Are we this powerful now that even when we don't get involved in something we effect things? Obviously, we are. It encourages us to keep doing what we're doing because we know when we do come out and say something, it's going to happen."

Bromell says he had a good laugh with all the hub-bub surrounding the aborted coup attempt. the boys in the association sat around the office watching the spectacle on the 6 o'clock news.

Tory hire

But the fact that it provided the evening's entertainment does not rule out the possibility that Bromell may have pressed some levers made suddenly available to him by the hiring of Tory-adept relations people.

New access to Queen's Park comes courtesy of a contract with Bay Street government relations consultants the Capital Hill Group. The company's Tonie Arnold, who managed Tory appointments to agencies, board and commissions as well as the party's campaign tour in the 95 election, has been the union's point person.

"We basically introduce clients to key people," Arnold says, " -- those who make decisions."

Bromell says simply, "We had to catch up to everybody else" on the public-relations front.

Then there's the conventional wisdom that the union head leaned on cop-friendly Norm Gardner, the police services board chair, to make sure Sgro faded from importance. Rumour has Gardner eager to endear himself to the police union by delivering her head on a platter.

But Gardner is careful when he describes his relationship with Bromell and wants to make it known they're not as cozy as it looks.

Gardner describes the tie as "very professional -- adversarial but friendly. I try to be very professional about how I do things so there aren't any chinks in my armour to say I did somebody any favours here."

Wanted title

In terms of why he supported Lyons' bid against Sgro, Gardner says only, "Jeff's been working hard and he kind of felt like he was putting in a lot of time, more so than some of the others, including Sgro, and he'd like to have that title at the end of his name. That's all it was."

But Sgro doesn't believe Gardner is so intent on maintaining his independence from Bromell. "I think Norm intends to be the most loved and cherished chair of the board there ever was when it comes to the cops."

And she believes someone very important got Lyons to agree to make a move against her. "Jeff's a soft person," she says. "He doesn't go around causing trouble. He's a lobbyist. His job is to get along with everybody. To hang on so tight all week, you gotta question why. Somebody put him up to it."

Who was the somebody? Lyons wants it understood that it was not Bromell.

"I saw him the day before (the coup attempt) at a meeting of the board and the police association, and that was all. He laughed. He said, 'How's it going?' And I said, 'I think it's fine."

"And he just smiled and that was it. He never got involved. I'm not involved as his supporter, lackey or whatever else. He's had a good run, with a lot of publicity, and I would say to him, 'It's time to forget the publicity and the media and sit down and try to work together."

But you can't help wondering whether the smile Lyons saw when everyone believed Sgro was done for was the Cheshire smirk of a man with a deep belief that the strings were his to pull.

Lyons, after all, was seriously considering quitting the board only a few weeks ago.

Toronto Police clippings... [Fiona Stewart]

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

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