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Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair weighs in on recent Supreme Court rulings

Toronto police chief Bill Blair is photographed in his office at police headquarters in Toronto, Ontario, Friday December 27, 2013.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair says his officers will turn to other laws to deal with the harmful effects of the sex trade after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country's major prostitution laws.

In a year-end interview with The Globe and Mail on Friday, Chief Blair declined to reveal whether he agrees with the top court's unanimous ruling. He noted police officers can use other laws, such as those targeting human trafficking, assault and exploitation, to deal with pimps and people who and sell women, men and children for the sex trade.

"The Supreme Court has issued a ruling and it's a very strong ruling and we accept the direction that they give," the Chief Blair said. "We will use every tool available to us to keep people safe."

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In a 9-0 ruling last week, the Supreme Court declared that the laws that increase dangers to vulnerable prostitutes, including bans on street soliciting, brothels and living off the avails of prostitution, violate Canada's basic values.

"Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote on behalf of the country's most influential court.

The Supreme Court has given Parliament one year to respond. Justice Minister Peter MacKay must decide whether to adopt new prohibitions in connection with prostitution. If so, the minister must ensure those rules fall in line with the ruling.

Chief Blair weighed in Friday on another Supreme Court decision that affects police officers. The court ruled last week that officers being investigated in a shooting should not be allowed to talk to a lawyer before preparing their notes and turning them over to investigators, such as Ontario's civilian Special Investigations Unit.

The ruling was a strong rebuke of a common practice in Ontario.

For example, Douglas Minty, a 59-year-old developmentally disabled man, and Levi Schaeffer, a 32-year-old with psychiatric problems, were shot dead by Ontario Provincial Police officers in separate incidents in 2009. Both men were armed with a knife. In each case, supervising officers told the police officers under investigation to consult with lawyers before preparing their notes. Those same lawyers represented other police officers who witnessed the incidents.

This will no longer be allowed because of the Supreme Court's ruling. The court determined that protecting public confidence in the police is so important that government can limit police officers' rights to basic legal advice.

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Officers will now be allowed to consult lawyers after turning over their notes to investigators.

"In my opinion, it was never appropriate for lawyers to vet notes," Chief Blair said. "The officers' notes are to be a reflection of their independent recollection of events – today's memoir – and to assist them. It was never appropriate for a lawyer to … vet the notes."

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About the Author
National news reporter

Renata joined The Globe and Mail's Toronto newsroom in March of 2011. Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Renata spent nine years reporting in Alberta for the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, covering crime, environment and political affairs. More

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