Four more Toronto police officers facing criminal charges, four more police officers getting an extended paid vacation.
On Thursday morning, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders confirmed that four officers were arrested and charged with perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from an alleged conspiracy to take down a low-level drug dealer. They are accused of planting evidence during an illegal search and have been suspended with pay until the court proceedings have concluded.
It’s something we just witnessed in the trial of Const. James Forcillo, who was charged in the shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim and found guilty of attempted murder. Forcillo has been suspended with pay since July 29, 2013. Despite Monday’s guilty verdict for attempted murder, it could be years until Forcillo begins serving time, because of potential stays and appeals by defence attorneys. Through all the legal wrangling, Forcillo will be receiving his full six-figure salary.
Under the Police Services Act of Ontario, “if a police officer, other than a chief of police or deputy chief of police, is suspected of or charged with an offence under a law of Canada … the chief of police may suspend him or her from duty with pay.”
At his press conference Thursday, Saunders confirmed the four officers will be getting their paycheques until all the legal proceedings have been exhausted.
“They are suspended with pay,” Saunders said. “I don’t have an option under the Police Services Act, it has to be that way.”
It’s something Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has hinted at changing following the Forcillo verdict. Changing the law would allow chiefs to suspend officers without pay, which has been recommended by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair.
“It’s something that has been raised for a number of years,” Wynne said.
Part of the reason to give officers pay during legal proceedings is to discourage frivolous charges, preserve innocent officers their income and ensure an officer’s presumption of innocence going into and during a trial.
But unfortunately, most people who are not members of the police force don’t get the same privilege.
On Wednesday, CityNews reporter Avery Haines told the story of Jim VanderBerg, who was charged with distributing child pornography, only to have the charges dropped by the Crown. The announcement of charges alone served to ruin his life, he said, as he went from operating a company that connected charities to working at a car wash.
“From the day of the press conference, I didn’t have a job,” he said. “I didn’t have a job, I lost my reputation, I lost my business. Everywhere you go, you feel like people are looking at you and pointing at you as this horrible, horrible person.”
It happens all the time. Suspects are named and charges are laid against them, but only in high-profile cases are there press conferences and front-page headlines announcing when charges have been dropped or defendants found innocent. For most of those wrongfully charged, it’s a lifelong battle to rebuild their tarnished reputations.
Police officers, politicians and CEOs should not be exempt of same level of embarrassment, stress and financial hardship that people they charge are forced to suffer.
And they shouldn’t be getting a paid vacation from taxpayers on top of it.