“Not a criminal” not enough to be a cop

Three Toronto cops were found not guilty of gang sexual assault. But "not guilty" is not good enough to keep their powers. Photo © 2016 G. Mark Towhey

Three Toronto police officers charged with gang sexual assault were found not guilty by an Ontario judge on Wednesday. The question now is, should they return to policing duties? The answer is, no.

Toronto Police Constables Joshua Cabrero, Leslie Nyznik and Sameer Kara had been accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague at a local hotel in January 2015, following a police bar crawl in the city. Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy explained her ruling, saying “Given the frailties in (the complainant’s) evidence, I simply cannot be sure of (her evidence with respect to the issue of consent) to the degree of certainty necessary to make a finding of criminal responsibility. Accordingly, I find the defendants not guilty.”

It is always hard to convict someone of a crime under our justice system. As, it should be. The victim/complainant must first convince police there is enough evidence to (a) investigate, then (b) lay a charge. The Crown prosecutor must then be convinced there is (c) enough probability of achieving a conviction to warrant taking the case to trial. Finally, a judge and/or jury must decide that (d) the evidence is convincing enough, beyond a reasonable doubt, to convict. It’s hard to deprive a citizen of his or her freedom. Rightly so.

It is for the guarded, not the guardians, to decide who gets special powers to stand apart and enforce our laws.

So, these three lusty amigos are not guilty of the crime of gang sexual assault. This means they will not go to jail and will not have criminal records. That’s the court decision and I am in no position, and of no predisposition, to dispute the court’s finding. The officers were suspended with pay by the Toronto Police Service pending the outcome of their criminal trial. Now, someone will have to decide whether these officers should go back to work.

That someone should be the Toronto Police Services Board, not the Chief of Police. And their decision should be: no.

Being a police officer in our society is a position of privilege, authority and responsibility. As a society, we should select only the best of our peers and empower them with special authority as peace officers to deprive others of their freedoms and to use lethal force when necessary to enforce the laws we have agreed upon. We place extraordinary trust in these women and men to carry out their duties and to wield those special powers with exceptional good judgment and unquestionable virtue.

Although not guilty of any crime, there can be no doubt Cabrero, Nyznik and Kara have lost the confidence and trust of a large segment of our society. Without that exceptional trust, we cannot empower them with exceptional authority. Toronto’s Police Services Board should declare society’s non-confidence in these men and direct they be denied status as peace officers.

If the Toronto Police Services Board is truly committed to transforming our police service, it must set a higher standard for peace officers than simply being “not a criminal.”

This is not an operational question for the Chief to decide. It is a fundamental question of whom society trusts to wield its powers and enforce its laws. It is not for the guardians to decide who gets these special powers; the powers belong to the guarded and it is for the guarded to decide who gets them. In Toronto, we citizens are the guarded and we have embodied our voice in the Toronto Police Services Board: Chair Andrew Pringle, Mayor John Tory, Councillor Chin Lee, Councillor Shelley Carroll, Ms. Noria Dhun, Ms. Marie Moliner and Mr. Ken Jeffers.

It’s time for the Board to fish or cut bait. If it is truly committed to its own vision of a transformed Toronto Police Service that serves and protects us all, then it must set a higher standard for service members. Simply “not being a criminal” is not enough. It’s not enough to earn society’s trust and it cannot be enough to be rewarded with exceptional powers. The board must act to deny Messrs. Carbrero, Nyznik and Kara peace officer status. Criminals, or not, they no longer meet what should be an exceptionally high standard for policing in our society.

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