Toronto police still refuse to confirm existence of Cessna used for surveillance

ABOVE: Toronto Police won’t comment on use of surveillance plane. Jackson Proskow reports. 

TORONTO – Toronto Police still refuse to acknowledge the existence of a Cessna plane used for surveillance.

On Wednesday, Global News revealed documents showing the Toronto Police Services Board registered a Cessna 206H in April. A brand new, similar Cessna retails for a starting price of $597,000.

Councillor Michael Thompson, Vice-Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, said in an interview Thursday that police have “always had a plane.”

“I don’t see that as being a problem at all, quite frankly,” he said. “It’s part of our budget so I’m alarmed as to why people would not have recognized it.”

In a search of the budget documents going back to 2008 readily available on the Toronto Police Services Board website, no mentions of aircraft, Cessna, plane, fixed-wing or plane could be found.

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The Toronto Police however told Global News again Thursday they “don’t discuss investigative techniques.”

But nearby police organizations are more forthcoming.

The Ontario Provincial Police website details the various operations of their helicoptors and fixed-wing aircraft. The York Regional Police has a FAQ section on its website about their air support unit.

Durham Regional Police go further, listing the non-confidential calls for service their helicopter has responded to. On October 2, the helicopter was used at least three times – twice to search for missing people and once more to search for passengers from a crashed car who fled the scene.

Councillor Adam Vaughan, a member of the Toronto Police Services Board, said in an interview the police Cessna may not be “identified as an airplane” as a matter of confidentiality.

“Very few things in the police budget are identified by their proper names,” he said. “I don’t think it’s necessary to divulge how it’s used in surveillance.”

But Thompson maintains the agency’s purchase of a plane has “never been a secret.”

“I suspect there are other tools they have that are not prominently featured and/or displayed,” he said. “But it’s used to assist in effective and good police work.”

The police won’t comment on what “effective and good police work” might include.

WATCH:  City councillors Michael Thompson, Doug Ford, and Adam Vaughan talk with Global’s Jackson Proskow about the surveillance aircraft owned by Toronto Police.

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Speaking with Global News on Wednesday, Norm Gardner, a former member of the Toronto Police Services Board said the plane was purchased more than a decade ago and is mostly used for coast guard work over Lake Ontario.

Former Toronto police officer Ross Mclean said Thursday that without “credible oversight” there is a danger the tools can easily be abused.

“In any instance where they’re using this technology, are they getting warrants? And, look, you have to look at this with technology, are there any abuses of that technology, who’s checking for that? At this point we don’t know,” he said in an interview.

“The public today wants to know what technology is being used against them and can be abused against them.”

Councillor Thompson said he has no doubt the Toronto Police are not bending the rules.

“The police understand one thing that I’m confident in, particularly the chief: It’s the application of the law, and application of the rules,” he said. “I have no question with respect to his judgement and utilization of legal tools to do his job.”

Councillor Doug Ford, who previously confirmed, then denied to reporters that police are tracking his family with a Cessna plane, though said he “wouldn’t disclose investigative strategies,” either. In fact, Ford thinks the police should have additional surveillance tools.

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“I’m in favour of a plane, actually I’ll go one step further, I’m in favour of police having a helicopter,” he said. “I don’t know of any other city in north America the size of Toronto that doesn’t have a helicopter.”

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