Documents show Toronto police own Cessna aircraft outfitted with surveillance camera

ABOVE: Exclusive: Toronto Police using ‘secret’ surveillance plane. Jackson Proskow reports. 

TORONTO – Toronto Police didn’t have to rent a Cessna to trail anyone; Transport Canada documents show the police have their own.

Last week, Mayor Rob Ford’s brother Doug Ford confirmed reports police are tracking the family in a plane, then denied them.

Documents show the Toronto Police Services Board re-registered a Cessna 206H on April 08, 2013.

Norm Gardner, a former city councillor and member of the Toronto Police Services Board, told Global News the plane is used for intelligence-gathering, primarily by the Toronto Police Marine Unit for some coast guard patrol over Lake Ontario.

“The aircraft basically does patrolling because there are people who are trying to smuggle and/or people from the U.S. into Canada,” he said. “So police have had a surveillance aircraft for many, many years.”

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Gardner couldn’t confirm when the plane was bought but believes it was prior to 2000.

“It was rather confidential about the police having an intelligence aircraft at the time,” he said, adding that it became public knowledge during a 2002 debate when the Toronto Police were hoping to buy a helicopter.

“It’s not really a secret,” he said. “The police just don’t talk about how they gather intelligence.”

Mark Pugash, Director of Corporate Communications for the Toronto Police Service refused to confirm the ownership Tuesday, saying he won’t “comment on investigative techniques.”

Transport Canada documents don’t say how much the plane cost. But the Cessna Aircraft website lists a similar plane, a Cessna Turbo Stationair was selling for a starting price of $597,500.

Several photos of the plane, apparently taken near Buttonville Municipal Airport, show the plane with a camera pod mounted to its side.

The Toronto Star reported recently the police had contracted a Cessna to follow Mayor Rob Ford and several other people in Etobicoke.

The mayor’s refused to comment on the allegations.

Meanwhile, councillors are surprised the city has a plane.

“I’ve been a city councillor for 20 years and frankly this is the first I’ve heard of it,” Councillor Joe Mihevc said at city hall Wednesday. “I’d like to know what it’s used for, how it’s in the public interest and to have a full and frank discussion as a city over the use of this kind of technology.”

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Councillor Josh Matlow first learned about the Cessna as well when speaking to Global News Wednesday. If police do in fact own a Cessna, he said, he wants that information disclosed to the public.

“If they have a good reason for having it and if they’re using it to watch any member of the public, then at least the public should be aware that it’s in existence,” he said.  “I’d like to know what it’s used for, I’d like to know why it hasn’t been disclosed that we have one, if in fact the police have one and I’d like to know in what cases is it legal to use it to follow members of the public and when it’s not.”