A Durham cop was caught on video threatening to beat up a man and plant cocaine on him, behaviour that prompted a Superior Court judge to say the officer “committed several criminal offences in the course of his duties.”
A Toronto officer refused to help his partner arrest an off-duty cop for drinking and driving.
Seven Ontario Provincial Police constables made fake notebook entries claiming they were conducting a RIDE check to catch drunk drivers when they were really hanging out at Tim Hortons.
All of these officers were disciplined under a secretive informal process that is supposed to be used only for cases that are not of a serious nature, an ongoing Star investigation has found. Critics say this is serious misconduct that should have been aired in a public hearing.
“These are not minor offences. To classify it as a minor offence is highly problematic,” said Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, after reviewing these cases and others in which officers have been informally disciplined.
Under this system, the misbehaving officers do not face public hearings and their names are not released. Often times, their misconduct is also kept secret.
And, after two years of good behaviour, the misconduct must be scrubbed from the offending officer’s employment record, according to the Police Services Act, which governs policing in Ontario.
“When somebody’s name comes up before the board for promotion, it’ll say nothing,” Mukherjee said. “There is no way of knowing whether this officer had informal discipline.
Alok Mukherjee, former chair of Toronto Police Services Board (Marta Iwanek/Toronto Star)
Toronto, Durham and York Region police refused to even say how many of their officers have been disciplined for internal matters under the informal process. The OPP, Peel and Halton released the numbers.
The Star’s ongoing Breaking Badge investigation has found officers from the GTA and Ontario have been recently disciplined in public hearings for reckless and often criminal behaviour: they drove drunk (sometimes in police cruisers), beat their spouses, invented charges and interfered with investigations to help out friends. The vast majority were allowed to continue being police officers.
This article is looking at the cases that never make it to a public hearing.
Under Ontario’s Police Services Act, a chief can choose to handle a discipline matter through informal resolution if she is of the opinion the misconduct “was not of a serious nature.”
The informal system is intended to allow police brass to efficiently deal with minor misconduct without having to hold a costly and time-consuming hearing.
In the last five years alone, 640 Peel officers — roughly 30 per cent of the force — have been sanctioned under the secretive system, some multiple times. The OPP, a force three times the size, informally disciplined almost the same number of officers over that time period.
One Peel officer, Const. Shehab Balh, was informally disciplined seven times in four years for misconduct that included shoddy police work resulting in criminal charges being withdrawn and operating his cruiser in an “inappropriate manner.”
He told the Star he felt the force was using the “progressive discipline” to push him out of the service. So he resigned from Peel police.
“Manipulated discipline and internal hearings for the disliked officers and uncontested promotions and advancements for the well-liked officers has nothing to do with good or bad policing. That is why I left,” Balh said.
Many informal sanctions are for benign employer-employee matters, such as showing up for work late or swearing at a supervisor.
However, some cases being funneled through the informal system are much more serious. (The Star cannot determine how many because of the secrecy shrouding informal discipline.)
In September 2014, seven constables with the OPP’s Caledon detachment were supposed to hold a midnight RIDE check to catch impaired drivers. Under instruction from their sergeant, the officers made “false notebook entries” claiming they were working when in fact they spent the hour sitting at Tim Hortons. They claimed they checked 64 vehicles.
The OPP's New Year's Eve R.I.D.E. program, 2007 (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star file photo)
The sergeant who directed his subordinates to lie in their notebooks was docked 60 hours pay in a formal hearing.
The rest of the officers were disciplined informally. One of them, Const. Jason Tardif, was docked 12 hours pay.
The Star only knows this because he was formally disciplined for making fake notes about police work he didn’t do in a separate incident just hours later.
The Star contacted all officers named in this story. None commented.
OPP Insp. Charles Young, a prosecutor for police disciplinary cases, said the seven constables were informally disciplined because they were “directed to commit the misconduct” by a higher ranking officer.
“They took responsibility for committing the misconduct and all were held accountable,” Young said.
In November 2009, Toronto Const. Suhail Khawaja “refused to assist” his rookie partner arrest an off-duty Halton cop for drunk driving, according to a court decision from the Halton officer’s impaired driving trial.
Later that shift, Khawaja repeatedly told others that “he wanted nothing to do with the arrest of a fellow police officer,” the judge wrote in his decision.
The rookie officer, Const. Andrew Vanderburgh, was berated by his colleagues and called a “rat” for charging one of their own.
Const. Khawaja was informally disciplined, as was a staff sergeant who failed to intervene in the harassment of the young officer. A police spokesman previously said two officers were informally docked 20 and 15 days pay for their misconduct in the incident, but the force said it could not discuss Khawaja’s penalty because it was an employment matter between the chief and one of his officers.
MORE FROM THIS SERIES:
Peel police’s sexual-harassment records revealed: records
Hundreds of officers in the Greater Toronto Area disciplined for ‘serious’ misconduct in past five years
Dozens of officers from across Ontario busted for drunk driving
Toronto police officials say the severity of the penalties shows the force took the misconduct seriously, even if they dealt with it informally.
Toronto police said the informal system allows the force to efficiently deal with misconduct that is serious, but not necessarily so serious that it warrants public airing in a formal hearing — and exact meaningful punishment in the process.
“The officer is willing to agree to a much higher penalty than they get in the tribunal to settle it informally,” said Insp. Peter Callaghan, a prosecutor for Toronto police’s disciplinary hearing.
“We want the employee to acknowledge that they’ve done wrong and accept responsibility for their misconduct.”
Under the Police Act, informal discipline can range from a reprimand to 20 days docked pay or 30-day suspension without pay.
The informal process also allows the force to discipline officers when they may not feel they have a reasonable chance of getting a guilty verdict at a disciplinary hearing, police said.
But critics say the noble quest of getting officers to admit wrongdoing and accept stiff penalties is undermined by the fact that the officers’ names and misconduct are not publicly reported.
“It’s swept under the rug,” said Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic who has dealt with cases of officers being informally disciplined as part of her practice.
“It defeats the whole purpose of having that system to hold police publicly accountable,” she said.
Durham police, one of the three GTA forces who refused to say how many officers have been disciplined informally, said they are internal matters between the chief and his members.
But Durham Const. James Ebdon’s misconduct was caught on hidden camera and posted online for all to see.
“I hurt people ... and then I make their cocaine f---ing appear,” the officer tells a young man outside a crack house in the 8 ½-minute, expletive-filled video posted on YouTube.
“You give me attitude and I’m gonna f---ing drag you uptown. I’m gonna say you assaulted me. I’m gonna say you threatened me,” the officer said in a 2011 video.
In a 2015 decision, a Superior Court judge ripped into Const. Ebdon’s conduct, calling it “reprehensible.”
“The evidence establishes that Constable Ebdon committed several criminal offences in the course of his duties,” Justice Laura Bird said in her decision.
“Const. Ebdon showed a staggering lack of appreciation for the seriousness of his conduct. Perhaps that is not surprising in light of the fact that the only penalty that was imposed on him by the Durham Regional Police Service was the loss of 24 hours pay.”
Because he was disciplined informally, Ebdon’s misconduct wasn’t required to be disclosed in a court case where he testified as an officer — a fact the judge called “concerning.” Durham police will not publicly discuss Ebdon’s case.
A spokesman for Durham police said the force looks at each incident in its totality, including any back story that may explain an officer’s conduct.
“This doesn’t excuse the behaviour, but it sheds more light on what really happened,” Durham spokesman Dave Selby said in an email. “Based on the totality of this information and a desire for the best solution to change the behaviour of the officer, a decision is made regarding informal or formal discipline.”
The informal system can be unfair to officers as well, said Randy Henning, president of the Durham Regional Police Association.
Some officers are faced with swallowing an “exorbitant” penalty for not-so serious misconduct without even seeing any of the evidence against them, Henning said.
If an officer rejects the informal resolution, he goes to a disciplinary hearing, where if convicted, the misconduct may be brought up in future court cases where he testifies.
“The informal part of the process is the most nontransparent part of the disciplinary system, both from the public and the officers’ standpoint,” Henning said.
Speaking about the informal process in general, Toronto Police union head Mike McCormack said he believes penalties doled out are “significant and appropriate” and part of progressive discipline that focuses on rehabilitation without a long drawn-out process of a hearing.
“It’s not bringing a hammer to swat a fly all the time,” he said.
The solution, according to former Toronto police board chair Mukherjee, is to create a clear definition in the Police Act of what constitutes serious misconduct. That way, it wouldn’t be left to the discretion of the chief whether a matter is dealt with informally or in a public hearing.
The province is currently revisiting the Police Services Act with the aim of modernizing the law that governs policing in Ontario.
During Mukherjee’s tenure on the police board, which provides civilian oversight the Toronto force, he said groups of officers were informally disciplined for removing their name tags during the G20 and turning off their in-car cameras — what he calls serious offences that undermine police accountability and integrity.
“My fear is that an impression is created that the discipline is not serious,” he said. “The next person who does that (misconduct) will act knowing that his matter is not serious.”