G20 communication problems downplayed by police chief

Toronto police chief Bill Blair says there's "excellent communication" between the police service and a key civilian oversight agency, despite a review into policing during the G20 summit in Toronto that suggests otherwise.
Toronto's police chief and the head of the civilian board that supervises the force say it will take months to respond to the latest G20 report, Steven D'Souza reports. 2:21

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair says there's "excellent communication" between the police service and a key civilian oversight agency, despite a review into policing during the G20 summit in Toronto that suggests otherwise.

The report, by former justice John Morden and commissioned by the oversight agency, the Toronto Police Services Board, found that "the board became a mere bystander in a process it was supposed to lead."

Morden issued 38 recommendations on policing of the June 2010 summit, many of which dealt with ensuring the board is better informed and has more power. The report found that many police board members knew little of key operational decisions that were made in the leadup to the summit of world leaders, which was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in downtown Toronto.

"The recommendations are intended to give civilian oversight real meaning," Morden said in his presentation on Friday morning.

"The lessons learned are that the civilian oversight function of the board is not working in accordance with the law and sound principles of governance," he said.

"Obviously it is my hope that the board and the chief will now conduct their statutory responsibilities in accordance  with the analysis and recommendations found in the report."

Blair, however, speaking at a 1 p.m. news conference in Toronto, didn't agree that there is poor communication between the police service and the board.

"I think there’s excellent communication," Blair said.

Blair blames time crunch

"I think in this circumstance there was, you know, additional information the board could have had, we didn’t have that information. We answered all the questions. I attempted to answer all the questions put to me. But again, the time constraints and the scale of the G20 had a significant impact."

A man kicks a burning police car on June 26, 2010, during the G20 protests. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

According to the report, Toronto police would typically spend up to two years planning for an event as complicated as the G20, compared to the few months they ended up with.

The time crunch left Toronto police scrambling to ensure that appropriate funding, as well as equipment and facilities were available for the summit.

Had more time been made available for planning, the report says, the resulting policing shortcomings "would have been minimized."

The summit was marred by violent protests and the arrest of some 1,100 people, most of whom were released without being charged. Ontario's ombudsman called the arrests "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history."

Blair said in hindsight, he would have liked to have more time to train Toronto police and officers from other law enforcement agencies.

He also said the recommendations of the report will be studied "very, very thoroughly."

The chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, Alok Mukherjee, struck a similar tone earlier in the day. Speaking after Morden presented the report, he acknowledged that mistakes were made, welcomed the report's recommendations, and he said the board would look very closely at the proposed changes.

The report takes the Police Services Board to task for not asserting itself as an oversight agent. Blair was too often put in the position of being the gatekeeper of all information sent to the board, the report found.

The report found that the board misinterpreted its mandate, and was too sensitive in its interpretation of a section of the Police Services Act to not direct the chief on specific operational decisions.

That sensitivity "has caused it to limit the nature of the information it seeks from the Toronto Police Service," the report says.