05.04.2015 03:49 PM

In this week’s Hill Times: “really great people”

It was Summer, around 4 a.m.: Dr. John Booth, a veterinarian, awoke from his sleep with a start.  A man dressed in black was standing over him, pointing a gun at his head.

“What’s your name?” the man in black yelled. “Who else is in the house?”

Booth’s wife, Hannah, had been sleeping in another room with their six-month-old son, Finn. Three other men in black were inside the West-end house, also waving around guns.  Hannah was jarred awake, terrified, and Finn started to cry. The men in black wouldn’t identify themselves, and they weren’t wearing badges, but it was apparent that they might be police.  As he was handcuffed – to be hauled outside his home in his pajamas, and forced to sit on the curb – John Booth demanded to see a warrant.

The men in black said they had an arrest warrant, and a search warrant, but that was a lie. They didn’t have a warrant. In fact, they had the wrong house. They were looking for a G20 protestor named “Peter,” not John Booth.


Another Summer, and two years before the Booths’ home was broken into by police officers dressed in black, Desmond Cole and two friends were stopped in Toronto’s downtown, not far from his apartment.  Cole – who is a writer who happens to be black – had been stopped dozens of times before by Toronto police, to be “carded.”  Carding is a practice wherein police stop civilians and demand information that later gets entered into a database.

The Toronto Police Service’s “contact card” requires an officer to report on a person’s colour before even taking note of things like their address, telephone number or driver’s licence.  Toronto’s black population is just over eight per cent – but blacks are carded by the city’s police force just under 30 per cent of the time.

In a Toronto Life magazine piece Cole later did, he writes evocatively about that night in 2008.  As they detained Cole and his friends, the police ran the siren on their cruiser.  They then demanded to know what Cole was doing.  “Walking,” he said. The ordered the trio to produce identification, and then got on their radio to request backup. A police superintendant quickly arrived and required the trio to empty their pockets.  He body searched Cole first.

Cole recalls the senior officer saying: “I want you to tell me if I’m going to find anything you shouldn’t have,” he said gravely. “I don’t have anything,” I replied, my legs trembling so violently I thought they’d give out from under me. The officer patted down my pockets, my pant legs, my jacket, my underarms.”

After about an hour, the police finally addressed Cole and his friends. “You can go,” one said.


Full disclosure, as they say: I know John Booth’s wife, Hannah.  She, like her husband, is a veterinarian, and I met her – and her son Finn – when I was helping her get on the board of the Toronto Humane Society.  She’s a nice person. Similarly, I know Desmond Cole, too: we both used to appear on TV talk shows as pundits, and we would talk a lot before we would go on.  He, too, is a nice person.

Notwithstanding the fact that I know both of them, I felt it was important to relate to you what happened to them at the hands of Toronto Police.  I felt it was important because those of you who don’t live in Toronto perhaps don’t know what it was like here during the G20 – when the police force essentially went mad, and when they seemed intent on turning this city into Guantanamo by the Lake.  Those of you who don’t live in Toronto perhaps don’t know what it is like to be a black man here, either, when you are much more likely to be stopped by Toronto police.  On suspicion of being, you know, black.

I don’t know the names of the cops who illegally broke into the Booth home and pointed guns at them. I don’t know the names of the cops who have stopped Desmond Cole at least a dozen times in Toronto and illegally demanded information.

I do know, however, who their boss was, at all relevant times: it was Bill Blair.

Yes, that Bill Blair. The same one who announced his intention to run for the Liberal Party of Canada in a Toronto-area riding, mere days after he left his post as Chief of Police.  The same Bill Blair who appeared at event with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in Ottawa.  With a straight face, Trudeau said that Blair would have to fight for the Liberal nomination in Scarborough-Southwest – and, almost simultaneously, admitted that his advisers had approached Blair to run.

Asked about the mass arrests at the G20, and the widespread abuse of civil rights that happened there, Trudeau shrugged.  “I’m not going to Monday morning quarterback decisions made five years ago by the chief of police,” he said, as Blair beamed at his side.  It’s unclear if anyone asked Trudeau about Blair’s enthusiasm for carding blacks, a practice he repeatedly and aggressively defended when he was Chief of Police.

Instead, Trudeau merely said: “One of the things you’ve all seen from me over the past two years is that I have dedicated myself to trying to draw great people into politics.”

Really? Seriously?

If Justin Trudeau really wanted to draw “great people into politics,” he’d be recruiting people like John and Hannah Booth, or Desmond Cole.

Not the thug who victimized them.


  1. sezme says:

    Strong column! With all that’s been in the news over the past year or more about police across North America overstepping their bounds, brutalizing the public, particularly those of African descent, and lying about it afterwards, it’s odd (is it?) that Trudeau would be tone deaf enough to parachute Bill Blair into his party’s nomination. To be fair, Bill Blair isn’t the worst chief of police out there, but that’s setting the bar pretty high, and he undeniably has a lot to answer for.

  2. VH says:

    The general problem with the Toronto Police is that they, like many Canadian “professional” organizations, are members of the so-called “industry association”. As with pretty well all other industry associations, the International Police Association (IPA) is really an American run organization with headquarters and/or a strong Washington based lobby.

    The IPA recently had Ted Cruz as a speaker at their recent convention.

    Constantly rubbing shoulders with and going on training courses and taking direction, philosophical or otherwise, from an American run police association leads to stuff like you’ve highlighted. Within that context, it’s no surprise of the lack of respect to citizens and blacks shown by the police.

    And why my Canadian tax dollars are going to subsidize Canadian cops listening to speeches by Ted Cruz is beyond me. It’s doubtful that a straight answer would be forthcoming if one were to complain to the Police Services Board about their membership with the IPA and would probably land you on some sort of ‘blacklist’, no pun intended.

  3. Greg from Calgary says:

    Does McGuinty also get criticized for this abuse of police power? McGuinty secretly approved of comprehensive powers for the police that were widely criticized by city councilors, civil libertarians and others.

    McGuinty didn’t even bother to consult with the Mayor of Toronto at the time David Miller when these were brought in. Keep in mind G20 was pending any maybe; oh a phone call to the Mayor of the city hosting it might have been nice. But when you are secretly taking away people’s rights with no debate I guess phone calls are out of the question.

    Peter Kormos said about McGuinty’s moves “Secret laws that the citizenry is not aware of are the hallmarks of tin pot dictatorships.”
    So I agree Blair overstepped his bounds. Who enabled it? Who granted him the power to do it? If this action is going to be criticized then let us hold those accountable even if their political beliefs match our own.


    • Priyesh says:

      Not to mention Stephen Harper’s role in enabling this whole fiasco.

      McGuinty is gone, but Bill Blair and Stephen Harper will be on the ballot. This year, in fact.

      You ready to support me in some accountability?

      • Greg from Calgary says:

        I’m with you on Harper. As a PM he runs one of the most secretive gov’ts in our history which is a disaster for our nation. People disagreeing with the government is not a problem, it is part of a healthy functioning democracy.

  4. VH says:

    Warren, let me retract that last comment if possible.

  5. patrick says:

    What are you all whining about. The press spends weeks talking about riots and security. The people get riled up. The police get riled up. Each with their own chorus of righteousness. And then the two sides meet on the appropriate day and the hope is that all hell breaks loose. That’s why I’m on the couch with my program of villains and heroes, popcorn and clicker for breaking news. Now this being Toronto the all hell plot means, Officer Bubbles, an abandoned police car with a neon sign pointing to a bucket of gasoline, and the victims finding the thugs for a polite game of whack a limb for the climax. This change up from a blood and guts epic to subtler plot driven by absurdity, farce and irony is an exciting twist and I’m curious to see if these motifs will continue to the next floor show or this will be a totally “Toronto thing”. Still Toronto chauvinism aside, we must all agree that the epilogue has become stale and must move on from the tired lines of collective offence and outrage sputtered and spewed by both sides until everyone has left the building. Still, despite the clever twists, perhaps a touch too clever if you know what I mean, the show has gotten old and I think with the next G20 I’ll spend my time concentrating on the G2O itself. I mean, what happened at the G20 beside a riot anyway?

  6. Gaspar dela Nuit says:

    I wonder if the Trudeau Liberals outbid the Harper Conservatives to get Chief Blair to run for their party. Or, did Blair immediately identify himself as a Liberal who was won over by Justin’s leadership and charisma? Does anybody know why Blair chose the LPC over the CPC?

    • G. McRae says:

      I bet it has to do with the common admiration of dictatorships such as China.

    • Lance says:

      Is there an assumption that the Conservatives even wanted Blair as a candidate? Did they? Because if it is the case that they didn’t, it makes Blair’s choice real easy, doesn’t it?

  7. Bobby Bittner says:

    Why should you be surprised that Trudeau Jr jumped at the chance to land Blair? His father would be proud.

  8. Peter says:

    I’m not sure what happened at the G20 merits a lifelong ban, as if he were a war criminal or even personally broke into the Booths’ home. We all know the police lost it, as Blair himself admitted. I have no doubt there were lots of “nice people” involved, but there were also lots of “not nice at all” people involved and many foolish people chanting the equivalent of “Down with this Sort of Thing” because they were confused as to why they were there or what finance ministers had to do with their issues. Tensions were very high, as might be expected after what happened at previous G20 protests in an age of terrorism. The Canadian Tamil Congress gave him an award in 2009 for his handling of their three week, quite disruptive, protests in Toronto and Ottawa. I would think landing a ten-year Toronto police chief is a coup for the Libs. Eve Adams he’s not.

    That the police blew it means they should be called to account, but it doesn’t change the fact that there wasn’t much public respect or patience for the protests or protestors either before or after. Quite different from Tamil or aboriginal or even union protests.

  9. Bill Templeman says:

    Again, Trudeau seems to be getting really bad advice. First Eve Adams, now Bill Blair. Who is coaching him on these decisions? And as with the Leafs, how could this coaching staff be changed, and changed soon?

  10. Tired Denier says:

    I am not glad you are mad Warren, but I am glad you are mad about this.

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