Toronto

6 Toronto cops were found guilty of disparaging anti-racism advocates. The report was kept secret

An internal investigation reviewed comments by six Toronto police officers after a public complaint labelled the posts racist and discreditable to the service.

CBC News obtained an exclusive copy of the report, Toronto Police Service can't comment

Police will not comment on the internal investigations or the investigators' findings. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Six Toronto police officers have been found guilty of discreditable conduct for making disparaging social media comments about a well-known criminal defence lawyer and an anti-racism activist, CBC News has learned.

The officers were quietly found guilty last month, according to a Toronto police report that was never intended to be made public. CBC News has obtained a copy of the 20-page confidential document, which outlines how some of the officers described lawyer Selwyn Pieters as a "loser" and author Desmond Cole as a "racist."

"Selwyn would cry racism if I said I drink my coffee black," read one of the five Facebook comments posted and liked by the officers.

The comments were made by officers across multiple police divisions on a seventh unnamed officer's public Facebook page in July of 2018 but were only brought to the Toronto Police Service (TPS) earlier this year. 

The internal police investigation was launched after someone not identified in the report came across the officers' personal but public Facebook posts. 

"As a member of a visible minority group, those Facebook posts made me feel angry, sad, shocked, and upset," the complainant said, according to the investigator's report. 

The internal Toronto police report was completed on Oct. 20 by Det.-Sgt. Jeff Hopkins of the service's Equity Inclusion and Human Rights unit.  He determined the public posts harmed the reputation of the service. 

"Comments such as those posted by these officers threaten to derail concerted efforts to build better relationships between the Black community and the Toronto Police Service," wrote Hopkins. 

Comments not found to be racist

However, Hopkins said the comments were not deemed to be racist. 

"The TPS is committed to identifying and holding accountable those who express racist beliefs," Hopkins wrote.

"However, in this particular situation, the Investigator did not uncover any evidence to establish that the comments amounted to discrimination." 

Pieters disagrees with that conclusion.

Toronto lawyer Selwyn Pieters says the findings of an internal investigation into comments made by police officers about him online are unacceptable and he wants them reviewed. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"The language that they used against me was insulting. It was profane. It was rude. And some of it brings the administration of justice into disrepute," he told CBC News. 

The second person targeted by the officers was Desmond Cole, the well-known anti-racism activist and author. 

Cole declined to comment to CBC News. 

While the investigation lasted three months, neither Cole nor Pieters were ever interviewed as part of the probe. 

Pieters says he wasn't aware an investigation had been launched, or what the officers had said about him, until CBC News spoke to him.

"It would never have seen the light of day," he said. "Certainly, I have things to say about the officers' conduct and their remarks."

Officers said they didn't know comments would be public

According to the report, the officers found guilty of discreditable conduct are:

  • Sgt. David Gaudet, 33 Division.
  • Det. Emanuel Gialousis, 55 Division.
  • Const. Zeljko Katanic, Emergency Management and Public Order Unit.
  • Const. Jeffrey Kell, 52 Division. 
  • Const. Dave (Robert) Smith, 51 Division.
  • Const. Kristen Yarlett, 31 Division.

None of the officers replied to emails from CBC News requesting their comments.

According to the report, one Facebook post claimed Pieters is "another racist idiot like Desmond Cole." 

The officer who posted it, Dave Smith, pleaded guilty on July 24, 2020 to assaulting a Toronto resident. The victim suffered two leg fractures after being kicked and pushed to the ground by the officer, according to a Toronto police disciplinary hearing on Oct. 29, 2020.

Smith was handed a six-month reduction in rank classification to second-class constable as a penalty. 

"If you look him up that's all [Pieters} does, make noise," wrote Katanic.

Yarlett described Pieters as a "big loser."

According to the report, five of the six officers provided written responses to the investigator.

They stated they did not know their comments could be seen by the public and that they didn't think the comments were discriminatory. They also noted they didn't identify themselves as police officers when posting.

John Struthers, the president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, says police services should not investigate themselves. (Chris Ensing/CBC )

The thread began when another TPS officer, not included in the eventual internal investigation, posted a link to a news story where Pieters had made allegations about racial profiling by Toronto police officers. 

That officer is being investigated by Peel Regional Police in relation to another active complaint submitted to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), according to the report. 

CBC News has learned from a source familiar with the investigation that the complaint relates to an alleged assault of a 24-year-old man of Middle Eastern descent.

CBC News has not named this officer as he has not been found guilty in relation to the assault allegation.

The officer allegedly punched Moses Demian, a man with no criminal record, while trying to disperse a car rally in Scarborough in January. Demian, who was on medications for mental health issues, killed himself hours after being treated in hospital, a source has told CBC News.

The allegation hasn't been proven and Toronto police won't comment on the investigation.

A spokesperson for Toronto police said they can't release details of the internal investigation. In a statement to CBC News, Connie Osbourne said that's because the Police Services Act only allows the service to comment on investigations heard at disciplinary tribunals where the details would be made public. 

'Police cannot investigate themselves'

The OIPRD recommended that an outside organization, which eventually turned out to be Peel police, investigate the assault complaint. Toronto police handled the investigation into the Facebook posts internally because those allegations were deemed less serious. 

What, if any, reprimands the officers might face, is also unknown. The president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association says the secrecy of the situation is troubling.

"If everything is in-house and ... they throw a blanket over it and, and, you know, things go on, that's not an investigation, that's a cover up," John Struthers told CBC News.

"And with the greatest of respect, the police cannot investigate themselves." 

He also said  Pieters and Cole should have been interviewed as part of the investigation.

"They're not listening. They don't want to listen," he said, referring to the internal investigators. 

Pieters said he plans to write to the OIPRD to ask for a review of the Toronto police internal investigation. 

"I will take it to the full extent that the law permits me to do to ensure that there is some form of accountability, not only of the Toronto Police Service, but those officers who were involved in this case because they are interacting with Black people." 

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