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Punishment for high-ranking Toronto police officer involved in exam cheating to be decided by summer

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An adjudicator will decide the punishment for a high-ranking Toronto Police officer who admitted to helping Black constables cheat a promotions system in what she called a desperate attempt to level the playing field.

Lawyers at a Toronto Police Service (TPS) discipline tribunal made their final arguments to Robin McElary-Downer over the case of Supt. Stacy Clarke, who admitted to texting pictures of exam questions before the constables were to take part in a panel.

Question-sharing was an “open secret” already, with connected officers getting a leg up from the largely white senior staff, said her lawyer, Joseph Markson, adding that Clarke’s actions were borne out of frustration after a plan to make the system more fair was cancelled.

“There’s nothing like this. There’s no precedent,” said Markson. “This is a head-on collision with realities of anti-Black racism in society, in policing, and in the promotional process.”

But TPS’ lawyer, Scott Hutchison, said Clarke’s actions demonstrated a lack of judgment that would be inconsistent with the higher expectations of her rank, and needs to be denounced.

“This is so pernicious. It has the effect of a superintendent propagating in six new sergeants the belief that this behaviour is acceptable. Who in turn become part of the leadership of this organization and the cancer grows,” Hutchison said.

McElary-Downer said she should have a decision by mid-summer, as the hearing wrapped up Friday.

Clarke has admitted to several misconduct charges over sending the questions and failing to recuse herself from a panel that questioned a close family friend.

The TPS does have the option to fire Clarke, but instead has proposed demoting her by two ranks to staff sergeant for a year, and then promoting her to inspector, and requiring her to work her way up from there.

Markson said the “realpolitik” in the TPS would mean a permanent demotion to inspector, which he said would be a harsher punishment than the recent case of a superintendent who was reinstated to his rank a year after crashing an unmarked police car while drunk driving.

The tribunal has heard that Clarke felt “invisible” as the TPS’s management team rejected her advocacy for certain qualified Black candidates in a meeting in 2021.

That was the same year that the Toronto Police Service Board questioned why figures showed Black officers were not advancing at the same rate as other ethnicities, and proposed a system that would share questions with everyone. The TPS cancelled that at some point before Clarke’s actions, the tribunal heard.

There has been no concrete evidence presented at the hearing that demonstrate other officers have been sharing exam questions.

But retired Supt. David McLeod said outside the hearing that it’s not just a rumour.

“You’re not going to have anyone standing there in that forum or speaking to the media and saying so,” he said, pointing to Clarke’s actions as leaving a digital trail that has been easy for investigators to find.

“I’m not saying this should be the norm. It should not be the basis by which opportunities, training and potentials are given an opportunity to succeed or fail,” he said.

Attending the hearing was Roy Williams, the first Black appointee to the Toronto Police Service Board from 1987 to 1993.

He said the Board has to get to the bottom of how its policies were not followed and wrestle with what he worried was a much larger insubordination problem.

“The Board is a supervisory body. They are responsible. It’s important to hold the Chief’s feet to the fire,” he said. “If there’s not accountability, there’s no action.”

He said Black history is littered with people who did great sacrifices to advance equity.

“The sentence Supt. Clarke is going to get will be severe and she will pay a large price,” he said. “It’s a penalty we have always paid because [we] have had this colour of skin and that’s the only way we have been able to make progress.”

The Toronto Police Service didn’t answer questions about what happened to the policy. However a spokesperson did say in 2023 the Service revamped its promotions process to reduce subjectivity.

“We do want to emphasize our unwavering commitment to rebuilding trust and eradicating all forms of discrimination, including anti-Black racism, from our ranks and the services we provide to the community,” wrote Stephanie Sayer in a statement.

She said since 2020, cadet classes have increased in racial diversity by 33 per cent, including a 39 per cent increase in Black cadets, and female uniform senior officers have increased from 18 per cent in 2019 to 25 per cent by 2022.

“Our commitment to rebuilding trust remains steadfast. We will continue taking proactive steps to engage with our communities, uphold accountability, and maintain transparency in all that we do,” Sayer wrote.

Clarke’s effort – though it broke rules – has earned her praise from some in the Black community.

“If you don’t have these organizations who are willing to accept that they are systemically racist and they need to make those changes, then it’s up to people like Stacy Clarke to say, ‘Well, look, we tried to play by the rules – I’m going to do what I have to do,’” author Jason Peat said. 

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