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Hog Town: The Politics of Policing

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Section: Accounts Geography: Ontario Toronto Topics: police, film

May 23, 2005

Hog Town: The Politics of Policing

Directed by Min Sook Lee

by Tim Rourke

Julian Fantino upon being conferred the Order of Ontario in 2003. Photo: Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration
At the world premiere of her documentary at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto, Min Sook Lee admitted she had no idea what she was going to film when she started in January of 2004. She originally planned only to film six-months in the life of Toronto City Hall. It was only then that the "Police Services Board conflict" suggested itself as a subject.

During the question and answer session after the screening, one attendee asked her if she was worried at any time about filming something that "crossed" the Toronto police, Chief Julian Fantino, and the Police Union. She was, she said, fairly worried about possible consequences.

This premiere was on April 23rd, 2005, a few weeks after Fantino completed his five-year contract as chief and handed control over to an interim chief. Advance tickets were sold out. People lined up around the block in pouring rain for rush tickets. A second screening was scheduled to meet the demand. The applause was exuberant; the audience members liked what they saw.

It was the director's cut and was about 90-minutes long. Miss Lee announced that more showings were being planned, including a 45-minute-long version that will be broadcast by the CBC in a few months and a forthcoming full-length DVD version.

"Policing the police is tricky business, but in a democracy somebody's gotta do it," ran the promotional blurb for the documentary. While the phrase understates the effects of the experiences portrayed in the film, the film ultimately conveys that, to date, it has been only the police policing themselves. According to the filmmaker, the public still has little control over the institution whose mandate is to protect them. Our democracy, it seems, remains short of perfection.

Miss Lee was given permission, presumably by Board Chair Alan Heisey, to film even when all other media were barred from the room. This was granted, one assumes, in return for agreeing to keep the proceedings confidential for a suitable cooling-off period. However, the police and their supporters could not have liked what they saw at the premiere. The viewer is left wondering how the police intimidation portrayed by the film was moderated by the presence of a camera, and how their actions might have differed had the camera not been present.

The camera recorded blunt admissions by two police supporters on the Services Board that they repeatedly left meetings with the intention of breaking quorum to avoid losing and to stop any attacks against the chief. The two would not respond when asked what was motivating them, or when confronted with the suggestion that all this pressure was obviously coordinated.

Other scenes from Hogtown:

  • Grim voices intoning that no politician can be seen as "anti-police" and survive, counterpoised with news bites about police abuses of power, which the film shows increasing throughout Fantino's term.
  • The Police Board's discovery that the chief did not know how to read the police budget.
  • Members of the public—who had given the chief and the two Board members vital support at public hearings—speaking up about the alienation of the city's poor, immigrant and marginalized populations that was brought about by the behaviour and unaccountability of the police.
  • Repeated camera shots of Fantino walking out of meeting rooms when the proceedings displeased him.
  • Several people saying to the camera that they felt they were "being followed."
  • A close-up of Police Board member, and veteran city councillor, Pam McConnell, eyes puffy and downcast, admitting that the treatment she was being subjected to was making her feel ill.
  • A mayor, who set this process in motion just after his election, but stayed in the background, delegating Councillor McConnell to take the seat on the Police Board reserved for the mayor or his delegate.
  • Repeated shots of a third Board member, not speaking, not looking at the camera, but consistently voting against the defenders of the chief.
  • A scene showing the level of juvenile intimidation that city councillors supporting the chief were prepared to sink to during the Police Board's "last ditch" appeal to city council. From the theatre's balcony, the on-screen behaviour of one councillor cornering another in a side corridor was seen to cause rows of jaws to drop in unison.

At the end of the film, Fantino is shown walking out of City Hall, and, wide-eyed, claiming that he did not know why the Board and the City Council disliked him.

The audience burst into laughter.

» Read former Toronto Police Services Board Chair Alan Heisy's response to this review

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