John Tory’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal parking during rush hour has a lot of Torontonians seeing red—or, rather, yellow, on their windshields, in the form of parking tickets. The ones who absorb all that misplaced commuter rage are Toronto’s parking enforcement officers, civilian employees of the Toronto Police Service. They’re not police officers, but the work still has its hazards: they’re often abused, verbally and sometimes physically, just for doing their jobs. Here, 10 enforcement officers talk about their worst experiences on the street.
The Break-In Artist: the hunt for the cat burglar who terrorized Toronto’s wealthiest neighbourhoods
The Fort Knox of Thornhill is a stucco mansion with a mansard roof, front-yard fountain and U-shaped driveway on the area’s most coveted street. It’s owned by a middle-aged couple named Tony and Sherry, who asked that we not publish their last name, and is equipped with every security measure on the market: eight interior and exterior video cameras, reinforced locks, motion detectors in all rooms, a siren, contacts on every window hard-wired to a central response station, glass-break sensors, a 1.8-metre-high wrought iron fence with a buzzer system at the front and a brick retaining wall at the back. In home security–speak, the place is a “hard target,” meaning most thieves will take one look and move along.
So it came as a shock when, at 6:06 on the evening of Wednesday, November 6, 2013, Sherry received a call from her alarm company, Vigilarm, informing her that the second-storey master bedroom window had been opened. At the time, Sherry was at the Richmond Hill Public Library with her 11-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter for the kids’ weekly tutoring sessions. If she were being robbed, the timing made perfect sense: every Wednesday between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., just as it was getting dark outside, the house was empty. Tony, a manufacturing executive, stayed at work on Wednesdays until 7 p.m., and the nanny always left at 5. Sherry instructed Vigilarm to dispatch the police, called Tony and then, leaving her kids with the tutor, sped the seven kilometres home, weaving through rush-hour traffic and running amber lights down Yonge Street. She didn’t know what she’d do if she encountered a burglar, but in the moment, she didn’t care.
Arsema Berhane, 32
My father, Tsehaie Berhane, fled Asmara, Eritrea, in the ’80s during the war with Ethiopia. He was a professor, and the Ethiopians were targeting professionals. It took seven years for him to be able to sponsor my mother, Mebrat, myself, and my three siblings, Filmon, Nahom and Salem. We all arrived in Toronto in 1990. It was March 14, the day before Nahom’s 10th birthday. For four months we lived in a one-bedroom in a high-rise near Lawrence Avenue and Black Creek Drive. The four kids shared the bedroom and my parents slept on a pullout couch. We’d never been in an apartment building before, and it felt like a prison compared to Asmara, where there were other children to play with and green space all around us. That July, we moved into a community housing townhouse in Victoria Village. There was a big yard, fields, a school across the street and children from many different cultures. It felt like we had finally arrived at the place we’d envisioned for so long. That was an epic moment for us kids.
Mike McCormack is the head of the Toronto Police Association, the labour union that represents over 8,000 civilian and uniformed employees of the Toronto Police Service. The son of a former Toronto police chief, he comes by his cop credentials honestly, but his pugnacious personality and his history of run-ins with the force’s brass (in 2009, he was found guilty of insubordination) make him a controversial figure. Currently, he’s best known for demanding the resignation of Alok Mukherjee, the chair of the Toronto Police Service’s civilian oversight board, after Mukherjee posted a not-all-that-inflammatory meme to his personal Facebook wall. We caught up with McCormack to talk budgets, police reputation and The Wire.
Pretty much your entire family is in policing. How did that happen?
It’s genetics, I guess. My father’s father was involved in policing, and my mother’s father was involved in the OPP back in the day with the anti-racketeering stuff. It’s been part of our family culture forever.
—The Toronto area’s 2013 homicide rate, according to Statistics Canada. (That’s per 100,000 residents. Canada’s most murderous city, Regina, had a rate of 3.84.) The highest the number got in the last 10 years was 2.08, back in 2007; it’s been trending downward ever since.
—The court-ordered fine levied on Gary Gould, a Toronto police officer who pleaded guilty to assault after punching a drunk man in the face several times while arresting him. The man, Christopher Milani, allegedly provoked Gould by spitting in his eye—but that was only after Gould told him: “Spit in my face, I fucking dare you.”
Raed Jaser, a school bus driver with a long record of petty crime, and Chiheb Esseghaier, a doctoral student in nanotechnology, met at a Markham mosque, bonded over a shared contempt for the West and allegedly plotted to derail a Via train. The entire time, they were being watched
aed Jaser was 15 years old when he and his family arrived in Toronto in 1993. During the Gulf War, his Palestinian parents, Mohammed and Sabah, had been forced to leave the United Arab Emirates. Mohammed worked as an ad sales rep at a newspaper and had refused to give in to Emirati government agents’ demands that he spy on other Palestinians. To avoid persecution, the Jasers headed to Czechoslovakia, then to Germany and finally to Canada. With them were Raed’s younger brothers, 11-year-old Nabil and 10-year-old Shadi. And Sabah Jaser was some five months’ pregnant with another boy. The immigration officer who interviewed the family noted in their file that their refugee case should be sorted out as soon as possible, before the baby was born.
On the evening of July 25, 2007, I was trimming the drooping branches of the weeping mulberry tree in the garden of my house in a quiet Scarborough neighbourhood. It was a warm evening, and people were out for after-dinner strolls, walking their dogs, riding their bikes, working in their gardens as I was. Suddenly a voice shouted out behind me: “Step away from the tree! Drop the garden shears and put your hands where I can see them!” I turned to watch a short, paunchy man with a brown handlebar moustache, wraparound shades and a blue baseball cap charging across the lawn with a Glock pistol pointed at my head.
The details aren’t totally clear, but the Sun reports that William Byers, a 60-year-old Rob Ford campaign volunteer, has been charged with one count each of assault, mischief and theft after a scuffle with a guy in an oversized rubber Ford mask at Ford’s Scarborough campaign office on Wednesday afternoon. The masked man, Paul Benoit of Oakville, evidently walked into the office holding a camera. In a video presumably captured by that camera, he can be heard saying: “So, now it’s time to have some real fun. We’re going to walk into Rob Ford’s office, and, uh, we’re just going to see what everyone has to say about voting for ‘me.'” The shit-disturbing experiment ends all of ten seconds later when a campaign worker (presumably Byers) physically hauls Benoit back out the door. At the end of the clip, the camera seems to hit pavement.
For the third time since becoming mayor, Rob Ford may be forced to give testimony in court. He wouldn’t be talking about anything as tame as conflict of interest or libel this time around, though. The Star reports that Toronto Police are getting ready to subpoena the mayor in his friend Sandro Lisi’s extortion case. If Ford is made to testify in court against Lisi, he may have to answer questions about Lisi’s alleged attempts to recover the crack video in the days after its existence became known to the public. Court testimony is given under oath, so any lies would be perjury. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 2, several months after election day.
Almost a year to the day after the shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, a long-awaited report on police encounters with mentally disturbed people is finally available for public consumption. The 400-page document was prepared at the request of police chief Bill Blair by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci in the aftermath of the tragedy. While it doesn’t deal specifically with Yatim, it does contain 84 recommendations intended to make the Toronto Police Service better at dealing with people like him, who seem to be suffering from some kind of extreme mental or emotional distress when they come into contact with cops. (Yatim, remember, is believed to have been intimidating fellow streetcar passengers with a knife before police got involved.)
There are a number of seemingly useful ideas among the recommendations, including a proposal to arm some front-line police officers with tasers on a trial basis, to give them a new alternative to lethal force. (It’s an idea that has been floated several times already.) The report also calls for the creation of a mental-health oversight committee that would consist of police officials and representatives from healthcare organizations and psychiatric facilities. Ultimately, though, the greatest idea to come out of the whole exercise is probably best summed up by Iacobucci’s statement at today’s press conference, quoted in the Star: “The premise of the report is the target should be zero deaths when police interact with a member of the public,” he said. “No fatalities” would be a fairly low bar to success for most organizations, but in the case of TPS, we’ll take it.
For three years, Ian Borbely told everyone that his girlfriend, Samantha Collins, had abandoned him and their young son. Then a cottager found a mysterious crate hidden beneath his floorboards
Samantha Collins met Ian Borbely at a mutual friend’s party in 2003. They came from different worlds. She was 25 and striking, with long black hair and fair skin. She’d been raised by a single mom in Mississauga and never knew her father. She got pregnant in high school, dropped out and gave up custody of her baby. After that, she started selling drugs and working as a stripper at a club near Pearson to earn a living. Borbely was three years older, a bodybuilder from Bracebridge, the son of doting middle-class parents. His friends describe him as a gentle teddy bear—the nicest guy in the room. He’d moved to Toronto to work as a personal trainer, taking a fence-building gig on the side. He was attracted to Collins, and after that first hookup he invited her to move into his place.
As far as we know, Rob Ford has never cooperated with Project Brazen 2, the Toronto Police–led criminal probe into his activities, but it seems as though his sister Kathy doesn’t feel the same reticence. The Sun reports that she spoke to police investigators following the Globe and Gawker stories about the second crack video, which is believed to have been filmed in her basement. The Sun’s sources say Kathy didn’t incriminate her brother, and it’s unknown what significance her involvement will ultimately have for the case.
Let this be a lesson to all library-goers: keep your phallic vegetables to yourself. Here’s a mugshot of the alleged perp, from the Toronto Police Service website:
—Percentage of respondents to a Department of Justice online survey who answered “no” when asked whether selling sexual services should be a criminal offense in Canada, according to CTV News. Oddly, 56 per cent of respondents thought buying sex should be illegal.