Toronto Mayor John Tory is defending a series of tweets in which he described a judge’s decision to release the man charged in the death of a plainclothes police constable earlier this year as “questionable,” after a complaint filed against him at the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
On Monday, the Law Union of Ontario’s policing committee announced it had filed a complaint with the quasi-judicial oversight agency over Tory’s comments on the decision by Superior Court Justice Jill Copeland to grant bail to Umar Zameer.
Zameer, 31, is accused of intentionally running over Toronto police Const. Jeffrey Northrup in a city hall parking garage in July. Little can be reported about the case because of a publication ban covering the evidence presented at Zameer’s bail hearing in September as well as the judge’s reasons for releasing him.
Though Copeland’s reasons for releasing Zameer had not been made public, Tory along with Premier Doug Ford and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown issued statements criticizing the move. Tory tweeted it was a “questionable decision,” saying it was “almost impossible to imagine a circumstance in which an accused in a case of first-degree murder would be granted bail.”
At a recent hearing where Zameer’s lawyer asked to loosen the publication ban, Copeland pointed to a 1988 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada describing public commentary by politicians on ongoing cases as “reckless.”
Yet in a statement to CBC News on Tuesday, a spokesperson from Tory’s office said the mayor stood by his comments.
“Mayor Tory was expressing his personal opinion as an elected official on serious public matters — as he is expected to do on a daily basis. He continues to believe — as he has for many years — that when someone on a serious criminal charge is granted bail, the reasons for that bail should not be covered by a publication ban,” said Lawvin Hadisi.
“As he has said many times, the mayor truly believes the present workings of the bail system are eroding public confidence in the justice system.”
Our city continues to mourn the death of Const. Northrup. It is almost impossible to imagine a circumstance in which an accused in a case of first-degree murder would be granted bail.
Complaint alleges Tory violated code of conduct
But given that Tory sits on the Toronto Police Services Board, the law union alleges the mayor’s conduct violated the board’s code of conduct under the Police Service Act, arguing the mayor’s conduct “demonstrated a failure to exercise the ‘utmost circumspection and prudence'” required of board members.
The union points out previous decisions by the commission have held that the code of conduct applies even when members purport to be speaking in other capacities such as mayor or taxpayer. Ultimately, the union asks for the commission to investigate and hold a hearing into Tory’s conduct as a member of the board.
For them to go off half-cocked with their criticism can jeopardize the accused’s right to a fair trial.– Howard Morton, Law Union of Ontario
When Tory, Ford and Brown “are openly criticizing a judge, citing a judgment which followed an evidentiary hearing… because of the ban on the publication of evidence, none of these three know what the evidence is,” Howard Morton of the Law Union of Ontario told CBC News.
“For them to go off half-cocked with their criticism can jeopardize the accused’s right to a fair trial,” Morton said.
Following the decision, Ford tweeted: “This is beyond comprehension. It’s completely unacceptable that the person responsible for this heinous crime is now out on bail. Our justice system needs to get its act together and start putting victims and their families ahead of criminals.”
The tweet was later deleted and reposted with the words “responsible for” swapped for “charged with.”
Brown also tweeted, saying in part: “This is disgusting. It is very disturbing that the person charged for this heinous crime is now out on bail.”
Morton says the union isn’t ruling out filing similar complaints against Ford and Brown. CBC News has contacted both Ford’s office and that of Brown, but has so far received no response.
The civilian police commission also did not respond when asked about the status of the complaint or how long it could take to come to a decision.
No comment from attorney general on fair trial rights
Zameer’s lawyer, Nader Hasan, has argued that the comments by the three elected officials have only compounded the “inaccurate narrative” forwarded to the public about the incident — saying the police account left out key details, which cannot be reported due to the existing publication ban.
Hasan has said the Section 517 publication ban under the Criminal Code was originally requested at the outset of the bail hearing to protect Zameer’s right to a fair trial, but that it is now undermining that by keeping the public from learning any more than the official police account of the incident.
The Crown has argued against loosening the ban, saying it would “compromise the integrity of its case.”
Copeland also pointed out at last week’s hearing that Ontario’s attorney general, Doug Downey, made no public statement in response to the comments by Tory, Ford and Brown about the importance of fair trial rights.
“As the chief law officer of this province, he didn’t come out and say, ‘Hey everybody, hold your judgment; Mr. Zameer has a right to a fair trial,” she said.
Asked why Downey issued no such statement, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office told CBC News on Tuesday: “As this matter is before the Court, the ministry has no comment.”