For your reading and pleasure, or perhaps frustration, I present the second installment of a semi-regular series dedicated to kvetching and carping about annoying stuff that’s been on my mind or in the news.
• Police culture in the city of Toronto.
Shortly after a report by Ontario’s police watchdog accused frontline officers and their superiors of unlawful conduct during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto, and with charges pending against a number of officers and investigations ongoing against others, comes the story of a rookie Toronto cop who was harassed by fellow officers for charging an off-duty Halton police constable with drunk driving in 2009.
The revelations of harassment came out at the trial of the officer who was accused of driving drunk. They included allegations that Const. Andrew Vanderburgh was followed home from a police station (where he had taken the allegedly drunk cop for a breathalyzer test) by a third officer who charged Vanderburgh with running a red light. The charge was eventually dismissed and the ticketing officer was disciplined, as were two other cops who didn’t intervene (all three had their pay docked).
In addition, Vanderburgh’s own partner refused to take part in charging the allegedly drunk officer, and Vanderburgh was said to have been called a “rat” by other fellow cops.
In response to the report about Vanderburgh’s treatment, the militant head of Toronto’s police union, Mike McCormack, said that while the union doesn’t condone this kind of behaviour, it’s not a systemic issue. He said a culture of police officers protecting their own may have existed at one time in Toronto, but doesn’t today.
Sorry, but I’m not buying that. It lacks credibility.
Anecdotally, I’m sure we’ve all seen police officers break traffic laws while driving – running yellow lights, turning on sirens to run reds when there’s no emergency, talking on their cellphones while casually riding around, etc. I’ve also heard from police officers I know that when a cop is pulled over for a traffic violation, all he or she needs to do is to show their badge to the ticketing officer and they’ll avoid being charged.
To be sure, violating the Highway Traffic Act isn’t quite the same as harassing a fellow cop for charging a police officer with a crime, but the fact police casually flout the law in plain sight makes me doubt McCormack’s claim that there’s no “thin-blue-line” culture among police behind closed doors.
Furthermore, this kind of report is part of a string of unfortunate news that has undermined public trust in the Toronto Police Service, which was badly damaged by police overreaction to protests during the G20 summit.
The G20 and reports of misconduct also subvert the good work Police Chief Bill Blair has done during his tenure to promote community policing in this city and reverses his efforts to repair the image of police in the eyes of the public after the controversial tenure of former chief (and current Tory MP) Julian Fantino.
Police officers need to remember – always – that they’re not above the law. The thin-blue-line mentality appears to be a part of police culture, and that needs to change.
• Catholic schools fighting gay-straight alliances.
Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools are objecting to provisions of a new provincial anti-bullying bill that would require all public schools, included those in the Catholic system, to allow the creation of so-called “gay-straight alliance” clubs, and to require them to be named as such, if students choose that option.
Cardinal Tom Collins, the Catholic archbishop of Toronto, called the move a violation of religious freedom, while Premier Dalton McGuinty held his ground, saying, in effect, that he’s in charge of education in the province and is accountable to more than one faith group.
Newstalk 1010’s John Tory, the former provincial Tory leader who lost the 2007 election for promising to extend public funding to all faith-based schools, said the solution is for Catholic leaders to reject public funds and run their schools as they see fit. (He also thinks the Catholic schools’ position on gay-straight alliances is anachronistic in modern-day Ontario.)
Globe and Mail columnist Adam Radwanski suggested that the solution is to cut all funding to Catholic schools, something that polls support, but Radwanski says McGuinty lacks the cojones to do.
Other observers are wisely cautioning Catholic leaders to find a compromise on the issue, because while they might win this battle, they could lose the war and find their schools defunded. That is, a wholesale change in the province’s school system could be an unintended consequence of Cardinal Collins speaking out.
As I’ve noted in a previous post, to its credit, Toronto’s main Jewish high school, the Anne and Max Tanebaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, has already set up a gay-straight alliance club, in order to ensure that bullying of the type that leads to teen suicide never happens there. But the Catholic experience may make some faith-based schools less ready to accept public funding from the province in the unlikely event they’re ever offered it.
• Yet more bad news in the newspaper business
Earlier this week, Postmedia – Canada’s largest newspaper chain, which owns daily papers in nearly all of this country’s major cities – announced that it would cease publishing Sunday editions of its Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton papers beginning this summer, and that it would be laying off staff in a new round of cuts while centralizing more editorial functions at a chain-wide facility in Hamilton (home to a daily paper that, ironically, is owned by Torstar).
The Postmedia announcement followed word earlier this month that the venerable New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Crescent City’s daily newspaper since 1837, would be scaling back its publication to three days a week (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) while continuing to publish daily online. The paper’s reporting staff of 150 is also expected to be slashed by 33 per cent, and those who remain will be forced to accept salary cuts.
Elsewhere, the Globe and Mail announced this month that it would accelerate its plan to re-implement a paywall on its website, a strategy it had all but abandoned a few years ago, while Ha’aretz, Israel’s left-leaning quality daily broasheet, threw up a paywall of its own on its website. Both Ha’aretz and the Globe decided to pursue the defensive strategy after seeing the relative success other papers with international profiles such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have had with it, although the reaction of most commenters on the Globe’s website to the story was, in effect, “So long, nice to know ya. The Globe’s website isn’t worth paying for. We’re heading to CBC.ca to get our news for free.”
Even more troubling, however, was the fact the Globe was asking its staff to take unpaid leaves this summer in an effort to save money.
It’s all enough to bring tears to this ink-stained wretch’s eye, yet the newspaper death watch marches on. If the Globe, Times-Picayune and Ha’aretz are struggling to survive, what hope is there for smaller, less venerable papers?
As their business models continue to crumble, I fear that newspapers as we know them will be gone within my lifetime.
But, as I’ve asked before, what will take their place?