Toronto Police chief Mark Saunders, we need to talk about sexual assault and Toronto Police Services (TPS). A 27-year-old woman alleged that Toronto Police Sgt. Christopher Heard sexually assaulted her while driving her home in a police cruiser on Sept. 24, 2015. Heard was charged in relation to the incident on March 2, 2016. In January 2015, three Toronto Police officers were charged with gang raping a parking enforcement officer. According to an SIU report, between 2014 and 2015 there have been 14 allegations of sexual assault reported against TPS. These numbers are higher than any other region in Ontario. TPS has a problem. Yet when it comes to sexual assault allegations against TPS police chiefs have a history of evading the discussion.
When Heard was charged, a CP24 reporter asked police chief Mark Saunders what the policies are about police offering rides to members of the public, he said “To get into the minutiae of the investigation I’m not going to comment on that. If a person asks for help, we will provide help.” It wasn’t a direct response to the policy. Considering the severity of the allegations and the threat driving civilians around could pose to people the public deserves concrete answers on those policies. If the TPS can’t be trusted to respect civilian boundaries, then the public should have the right to know what those boundaries and policies are. When the reporter probed Saunders for more questions, Saunders said he felt it would be inappropriate to comment on an SIU investigation. When four police officers were charged with perjury and obstructing justice in Feb 2016, Saunders held a press conference and allowed time for reporters to ask questions.
When a Toronto parking enforcement officer was allegedly gang raped by three off-duty TPS officers, reporters asked former police chief Bill Blair why it took 33 days for the officers to be charged, he said, “The investigation needed to be conducted, it was conducted and those charges are laid, and that matter is now before the courts, and I won’t be commenting on it.” According to media reports, the professional standards unit and the sex crimes unit did the investigation; the SIU had also been consulted. Blair denied there was any conflict of interest for police to investigate other police. All three officers are currently suspended with pay, and were freed after paying $15,000 bail.
Of the charges laid against TPS officers there have not been any statements made by the current and former police chief or TPS encouraging other possible victims to come forward. In contrast to the numerous instances where non-TPS officer(s) have committed sexual offences across the city, other potential victims have been requested to contact the police. Blair encouraged victims to come forward involving sexual assault allegations on CBC’s radio host Jian Ghomeshi. Even eliciting a response from potential victims has an underlining tone of disparity when it involves allegations against TPS.
Sexual assault is not a light matter, but there are greater power dynamics when it comes to civilians versus the police. The police are the people victims need to turn to for help. Saunders needs to create a safe environment for victims to come forward and address the public when it comes to sexual assault, no matter who the perpetrator may be.