TORONTO — This week has not been kind to the reputation of the Toronto Police Service.
It started with a jury finding Const. James Forcillo guilty of attempted murder in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013.
It was followed by the laying of charges Wednesday against another officer, Const. Tash Baiati, who fired 15 shots into the engine of a pinned-in car after a chase in the Distillery District last September.
Thursday morning’s confirmation of several charges of obstruction of justice and perjury against four veterans of the force was another black eye.
Nguyen Son Tran, the man they testified against, claims that it was planted evidence that led to an unlawful search of his car and eventual drug charges two years ago.
Those charges were dropped when the judge told court he didn’t believe the officers, but Tran’s lawyer, Kim Schofield, said their alleged actions at the trial are part of a larger problem.
“I don’t think that this is a single and isolated occurrence,” Schofield told Global News.
“I think it occurs far too often. I think that police officers feel they can lie with immunity.”
When asked by reporters to respond to that comment, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told those assembled at a news conference Thursday that “every lawyer is entitled to an opinion, even if they’re not accurate.”
Saunders remained calmer throughout the rest of the news conference, telling reporters “anything that questions the integrity of any member of the Toronto Police Service concerns me.”
He insists bad behaviour is not a systemic problem within the force.
City Councillor Shelley Carroll, also a member of the Toronto Police Services Board, backed Saunders up; insisting the allegations against a few don’t represent the whole.
“For the fine officers that are today acting lawfully and using their training and doing everything they can to gain the public’s trust, quick action on some of these allegations, I think are what they would welcome,” she said.
But it would appear the actions of officers who are not acting lawfully is, at least minimally, negatively affecting public opinion.
A poll conducted by Forum Research this week, before the Forcillo verdict, showed Saunders’ approval rating had dropped three per cent over the last month, to 45 per cent.
“We’ve actually seen many people who’ve actually held police in a particular regard have changed their position because of the cause and effect of some of those activities.”
As far as how the four officers charged Thursday will be disciplined by the force, Saunders said the only option he has at this point is to suspend them with pay and have the Professional Standards Division look into any previous cases they’ve worked on for red flags.
“They’re getting paid for the fact that they’ve been charged,” said former Toronto Mayor John Sewell with a laugh.
“It’s really, really unfortunate.”
Sewell is now a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition and said the provincial law that determines how police accused and convicted of crimes are eventually punished needs to change.
Last summer, Ontario’s Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi announced plans to revamp that law, the Police Services Act, potentially allowing police chiefs to suspend officers accused without pay in certain situations — but the ministry still has to schedule public consultations.