The Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) has nominated former Hamilton Police Association president, Mike Thomas, to be their candidate for the Nov 17 by-election in Niagara West-Glanbrook.
Thomas, a retired police officer of 30 years and former President and CEO of the Hamilton Police Association (2010-2014), will be representing the ONDP in the the riding recently vacated by former Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak.
In a press release, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath stated how “thrilled” she is to to have Thomas as their candidate, and suggests that “Mike will work hard to show people that the NDP is different.”
But after looking deeper into MIke Thomas’ views on police violence and civilian oversight, I can’t help but wonder: how is Mike Thomas at all “different” from the status quo? And what message is the Ontario NDP sending to the people of Ontario who have been victims of police violence?
Thomas: The SIU is unfair to police
In an op-ed for the Hamilton Spectator dated June 4, 2012, Thomas (writing in his official capacity as HPA president) responded to criticisms that there exists a “wall of silence” that confronts SIU investigations of police violence by dismissing them out of hand.
In the op-ed, Thomas writes that the SIU not only puts the police at a disadvantage, but that the process of civilian oversight as it currently exists gives the families affected by police violence too much power to shape the public narrative.
According to Thomas, “the SIU monopoly on media contact gives every party in a situation, except the local police service, an advantage,” and his overriding concern is that this access to the media “can cast both the police service and our members in a bad light.”
A rather shocking target of his criticism in his op-ed is victims’ families. Thomas goes so far as to argue that “third parties such as media outlets or members of the public including the family of the alleged victim can take the information and say what they want about it.”
The problem with the current SIU process, in Thomas’ view, is not that it consistently fails to deliver justice for victims’ families, or that it is ill-equipped in actually doing the investigations it claims to be carrying out in the public interest. No — the problem is that it gives the victims' families too much power to seek justice on the public stage and find support from the broader community.
Near the end of his op-ed, Thomas trivializes the reality of police violence, arguing that “the sensational news report announcing the start of an SIU investigation usually pales in comparison to the short, back-page story indicating that officers have been cleared of any wrongdoing.”
In Thomas’ world, investigations into police violence are more often than not “sensational” reports, and this view certainly reflects the confidence felt by many in the police force that their friends in blue will eventually be cleared.
The burning question he is left with, is: “Who holds the SIU to account for any release of information that paints a case in a bad light either deliberately or unintentionally?”
Defending a culture of silence
In view of this “media monopoly,” what is Thomas’ conclusion for local police departments and associations?
The answer: maintain the culture of silence.
According to Thomas, “the police service and the police association must remain silent,” and in his op-ed he dismisses the concerns of Ontario ombudsman, André Marin, who claimed at the time that “Police often don't co-operate with the SIU as they should, and the SIU has no recourse."
Despite various reports put out by the Ontario ombudsman’s office over the years leading up to this 2012 op-ed — such as “Oversight Unseen” (2008) and “Ovesight Undetermined” (2011) — Thomas dismisses the concerns regarding police non-cooperation out of hand, and rejects the idea (put forward by Martin and others) that “the SIU given the power to force subject officers to provide a statement.”
“Thankfully,” writes Thomas, “we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent such a blatant trampling of the right to silence, a right that is fundamental to a free and democratic society.”
With this intervention, Thomas chose to reinforce the deadly culture of silence that exists inside police forces, and rejected any measures that would bring greater accountability for individuals and families who have been on the receiving end of police violence.
ONDP: Which side are you on?
At a time when organizations like Black Lives Matter-Toronto have been organizing to challenge anti-black racism, break the culture of silence that protects killer cops from facing justice, and to demand more accountability from the SIU, the Ontario NDP has put forward a candidate who stands on the opposing side of history.
It’s hard to imagine a candidate more at odds with social movement allies both in and outside of the party, including the work of NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh, who has been campaigning against the racist practice of “carding” used by many local police departments, and has been strongly in favour of creating an antiracism secretariat.
The NDP has a historic connection to the labour movement, which means labour activists have an obligation to speak out and make it clear that Thomas’ views are not welcome in a party that claims to stand up for the interests of working people.
The labour movement has to demonstrate that they are on the side of those who are seeking justice, not those working to prevent justice from ever being delivered.
So Ontario NDP: which side are you on?