Monday, April 28, 2008


Last Sunday, CBC's weekend news programs "CBC News: Sunday" and "CBC News: Sunday Night" featured an examination of allegations of police corruption within the Metropolitan Toronto Police Drug Squad.

The case profiled was the biggest investigation into police corruption in Canadian history. In January, 2008, a Toronto judge threw out charges against six Toronto officers, accused of robbing drug dealers of massive amounts of drugs, money and guns, saying the case had simply taken too long to come to trial and had to be dismissed.

You can watch the CBC report here as a team of journalists try to discover if deliberate efforts were made to undermine the prosecution and why key players did nothing about it.

It's a fascinating piece of television journalism. But far more fascinating to me, is a second allegation made by the CBC that one member of the drug squad was betting on races at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack that had been "fixed". Because that barely touched upon element of the report might just be the missing piece that could illuminate what was really going on here.

I grew up around horses. I might not fall into the "could ride before he could walk" category, but the timing would be close. I've also always been a fan of racing and live amid one of the largest populations of thoroughbred breeders and racing stables in the country.

One of my neighbors used to run his horses regularly at Woodbine (Canada's largest horse track). And you could always tell when he'd won a race. Sometime around midnight, his truck would swing around the corner of our rural road and he'd lean on the air horn the rest of the way home, signaling that daddy could buy news shoes and a fresh bag or two of oats.

Now, fixing a horse race is tough. Doing so either requires the co-operation of most, if not all, of the jockeys and trainers in the race but often the owners as well. It's true that you can drug a horse to enhance its chances of winning or ensure its likelihood of losing, but that's not a foolproof system, with far too many ways the cheats can screw up, be caught by a drug test or damage livestock so that the continued practice is even less certain of returning a profit.

But, according to the CBC, a crooked cop was getting tips from a confidential informant who worked at the track when fixed races were being run. That implies that the practice was somewhat regular and frequent.

Interestingly, however, is that even though these alleged "fixed" races happened a couple of years ago, there have been no mass banning of cheating jockeys or trainers at Woodbine in recent memory, nor any other indication that the Ontario Racing Commission even took a detailed look at the situation.

Perhaps they did and couldn't turn up anything. Perhaps an investigation is ongoing. I don't know. What I do know is a fixed horse race is a great place to launder money or to cover the sudden deposit of a significant amount of cash into your bank account if your regular deposit is a detective's salary.

See, if you've got a lot of money from a source you need to hide, or "wash" in the parlance of the trade, gambling establishments are places where hefty cash transactions garner less official attention. Obviously, gambling such money is not a smart choice if you don't know the outcome of the game. But it's perfect if you have absolute knowledge of what number's coming up at the roulette table or who's finishing first, second and third in the trifecta.

Now, I've also had occasion to spend time with some corrupt cops. In four years of ride-a-longs for "Top Cops" I spent time shadowing Internal Affairs units as they tracked and collared corrupt officers, and more than a few nights in smoky bars listening to good cops tell stories about former friends or partners who went bad.

If there's anything a good cop dislikes more than criminals and liberal judges, it's a bad cop. Because bad cops not only sully the reputation of every good officer, they make the public less trustworthy and the daily process of pushing the evidentiary envelope to get what you need on the bad guys tougher to do.

A crooked cop knows this as well as anybody. He also knows he can trust the "blue wall" of his fellow officers' loyalty to protect his reputation before and during trial because so many police are falsely accused of one thing and another. And he accepts the certainty that a single shred of reliable evidence will crumble that fortress mentality completely and his former comrades will then show him no mercy.

So the crooked cop usually has a superb cover for the extra money he's making. Sometimes that's a bet on the ponies. More often it's the protection of somebody higher up who's getting a piece of his action.

The Toronto case parallels the New York Drug Squad scandals of the 1970's profiled in Robert Daley's brilliant book "Prince of the City" made into an equally brilliant film by Sidney Lumet. It also smacks of the upper echelon conspiracy of silence and delay recorded in Peter Maas' epic true story of police corruption "Serpico", also a landmark film by Lumet.

Simply put, it's hard to imagine that what took place in Toronto could have happened without a lot of people in high places making sure the truth wouldn't come out. And in the way power in Canada tends to congeal into little pockets of privilege, you just might find some connection between a police investigation that never made it to court and a race track investigation that's been similarly silent.

1 comment:

Brandon Laraby said...

THAT sounds like a decent idea for a story to me. I wonder why no one of the Journalistic bent thought to follow it up?

To me the silence says far more about this than anything.

But really, who (other than cops) gets let off the hook from prosecution because 'it's taking too long'?