Toronto School Board Spokesperson Sends Police Out To Hassle One Of Its Critics

from the if-you-can't-beat-'em,-intimidate-'em dept

As we've seen occur in multiple instances, bogus infringement claims have been used to make things disappear from the web. When that isn't an option, vague claims of libel or defamation are used to shut down critics. And if it isn't either of the above, the entity being criticized will fall back on the law -- or rather, law enforcement -- to achieve silence through intimidation.

Sometimes it works all too well. Other times, it backfires completely. Such is the case with longtime critic of the TDSB (Toronto District School Board), Arnie Lemaire, who writes the Blazingcatfur blog. A member of the school board sent the Toronto PD over to Lemaire's place after finding something "threatening" in a six-week old blog comment. (via)
"We received a knock at our door a little after 8 a.m.," said Lemaire. "Two detectives from Toronto Police Services identified themselves and asked if they could come in to discuss a matter."

Enter Det.-Consts. Irene Liska and Sergiy Lobanets, from 32 Division.

They presented "a photocopy of my post about the TDSB teaching children that the Black Panthers were a harmless social justice organization link" and specifically the "OISE and the TDSB need to be purged, or burnt to the ground" stinger.

It was almost laughable. He thought everybody would understand it was meant figuratively and obviously not literally.
Unlike other cases where the police have overreacted first before circling back to ask a few questions (for instance, strip-searching a man whose daughter drew a picture of a gun in class, or detaining a teen for three hours over some misheard Will Smith lyrics on a voicemail message), the responding officers had this sorted out in a matter of minutes, finding the whole thing nearly as laughable as Lemaire did.
[Lemaire] added he "assured them I had no intention of torching the TDSB."

Police, he said, "were immediately satisfied with that explanation and assured me there would be no charges."
The police must have been less than amused by being used to run errands for the school district as they generously gave up the name of the complainant -- TDSB spokesperson Sheri Schwartz-Maltz. Schwartz-Maltz was "out of the office" when contacted for comment but another board member offered this in the way of explanation.
[F]ellow TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird explained "when certain words or terms are used in relation to schools or the board, they are flagged -- as per protocol -- to the Toronto Police Service without exception to determine if there is any threat that would require further investigation."
Oh, look. It's our old friend "zero tolerance," once again making an ass of itself and the people willing to blindly adhere to "protocol." Lemaire's comment was clearly non-threatening. Note the lack of first-person ("I would like to burn TDSB to the ground...") or any call to action directed at others ("someone needs to burn TDSB to the ground...").

If it is indeed the policy of the school board to flag certain terms for police investigation, one wonders why it took the board six weeks to get this horrible "threat" investigated. Presumably, safety still remains first for the district. A lag of six weeks from threat to response isn't going to stop bad things from happening, no matter how low the "tolerance." [Currently at "zero."]

No, this is just old-school intimidation. Call the cops around to make a point about saying things the offended party feels just shouldn't be said. But Lemaire's having none of it, returning to his anti-TDSB blogging with the headline "Dear TDSB, You Can't Silence Me." The school board, on the other hand, has returned to the security of its "protocol," apparently seeing nothing wrong with calling the cops over a few nasty, hyperbolic words.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 3:59am

    Ohai Tim!

    I wonder if they hired Dtecnet to monitor for the words to trigger the protocol.

    While someone could try to make a case about certain words and the school being used together might make people twitchy, the fact the board decided to include themselves once again confirms my hypothesis...
    When you give people power, they develop a kind of brain damage.

    I think the parents of the district should be in the Board offices asking why it took them 6 weeks to notice what they assumed was threat to the board. Are they as caviler protecting the children... or maybe they should be shopping for a new spokesperson who thinks sending the cops after the boards "enemies" is a bad idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 4:14am

    Re:

    and having glanced over the blog, I'm sure me taking his side will make his head explode. :D

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Mr. Applegate, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 4:22am

    There is nothing new here. I know my dad was sued by the superintendent of the local school system for a letter to the editor he sent some 40+ years ago. The suit was quickly dropped, but it proves a point.

    "Those in power will abuse that power." or perhaps the better known "Power corrupts..." Be very careful who you give power to.

    Generally, those seeking power are not worthy to wield it. Those who have power thrust upon them are much less likely, at least in the beginning, to abuse that power. Hence the need for term limits on ALL forms of public service.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 4:49am

    Where's the punishment for the one that called the police on such petty matters? Unless we start putting some sort of punishment (if anything you could issue some public wrist slap and warnings) for such things we'll start seeing a lot more episodes of swating or what happened here. The bright part is that the police took their time to ask questions and clear misunderstandings before storming the house with guns blazing. The US could learn a thing or two here.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Michael, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 4:57am

    Re:

    That is a pretty slippery slope as well. Punishing someone for reporting something could lead to not reporting things that need to be reported pretty quickly.

    This is a good case for public shaming of the board and leave it at that - just like what has happened.

    The good news is that the police in this case acted responsibly. Instead of showing up with assault weapons, they knocked on the door and asked what was going on. Another display of Canadians having good manners.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    quawonk, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 4:57am

    "Note the lack of first-person [...] or any call to action directed at others [...]"

    Careful, Tim! They'll be at your door next.

    (Evil threatening sentences replaced with [...] to protect myself.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 5:19am

    It looks like the Toronto PD may have learned something from the G20 fiasco

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Buddhapi, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 5:19am

    newest trend to squelch free speech

    Seems to me this is the newest trend to squelch free speech, a judge recently ordered a Permanent Protective Order against the founder of extortionletterinfo.com as well as ordering the removal of an entire forum, stepping all over the free speech rights of all of those involved.

    Here is the official press release:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/131452030/Press-Release-ELI-March-19-2013

     

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  9.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 5:30am

    Re: Re:

    Oh if it as done maliciously or with intent to harm (business, reputation, otherwise) then there is a nice couple of torts and/or criminal sanctions that could be imposed on the informant/complainant.

    Unless you are reporting something that a reasonable person would constitute a crime or that comes under mandatory reporting legislation (if any exists) then this case would seem to be very well done for malicious reasons.

     

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  10.  
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    dennis deems (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 5:47am

    Lemaire's comment was clearly non-threatening. Note the lack of first-person ("I would like to burn TDSB to the ground...") or any call to action directed at others ("someone needs to burn TDSB to the ground...").
    I'm a fan, Tim, but you're grasping at straws here. The distinction you make between what was written and these alternate ways of expressing the same sentiment is slender as a hair. The meaning isn't changed simply by using passive voice.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 6:29am

    Blame Canada?

    It's always nice to see the police act in a calm and civilized manor when responding to claims such as this. If this incident happened in the US, I'd fear the blogger would have been detained by a SWAT team and held in detention for 6 hours before finally be let go with a strong warning not to do it again...

    Not saying that Canadian policing is without it's incidents (Tasering death at Vancouver airport mainly due to communication/translation issues or the G20 summit) but they seems to be a lot less.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 6:53am

    Re: Re:

    We certainly do not want people to stop ratting out their neighbors for leaving the trash cans out too long or speaking up when they do not get cheese on their burger at the drive thru.

    If you see something say something.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 6:55am

    Re: Blame Canada?

    More likely a drone strike followed up with flash grenades and a house fire.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 7:22am

    Once in a while I find an article that explains what we all thought but really did not know as fact.

    If you want to get to the bottom of the Cyprus issue the here is the explanation of the source.

    Did I say Cyprus? Well really it is all of Europe, North America, US, and South America.' Judeo, Christian, Muslim heritage.

    Asia is sufficiently different that the issues are general completely differ; different thought pattern; different morality; same results.

    In Spain, Running With The Bulls**t
    By Eric Ellis
    March 21, 2013
    Tracking the epidemic of small town corruption that has crippled Spain — and Europe with it.

    http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/in-spain-running-with-the-bullst/578/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    AB (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 8:09am

    Re: newest trend to squelch free speech

    That's a bit different. I think - the article really doesn't explain much. While I believe the allowed charges are ridiculous, at least in your example she _seems_ to only be targeting businesses(granted those include non-profit, but they still issue pay cheques). Also she is working within the law, even if we don't agree with either it or her. The above school board actively committed fraud but are getting away with it because it is a minor case and they wield a great deal of power. And it is Canada - sometimes we really suck.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    AB (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 8:16am

    Re: Re: Blame Canada?

    As a rule the RSMP are an excellent police force. I have rarely encountered - or even heard of - RCMP officers gone bad. That's not to say they don't exist, just that the majority of the force tries to makes up for them. Compared to _any_ of the private city police forces I have encountered the RCMP are absolutely incredible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 8:47am

    Prioritize

    Maybe it was reported right away and the police responded to it with all the speed it required.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 8:51am

    I don't think out_of_the_blew_a_ladyboy_at_Sizzler is going to like this story one bit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 9:04am

    Re:

    True. However, the plain meaning was rhetorical, not an actual threat. As the police rapidly recognized.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    PGP_Protector (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 9:16am

    So writing post about Toronto District School Board, and Guns gets them to trigger their 0 tolerance police calls?
    Wouldn't that mean that they have to call the police on themselves any time they post about no GUNS ALLOWED in School, after all we're talking about GUNS BEING or not in the Toronto District School Board buildings?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 9:40am

    Re:

    > The distinction you make between what was written and
    > these alternate ways of expressing the same sentiment is
    > slender as a hair. The meaning isn't changed simply by using
    > passive voice.

    In the U.S., it's a key legal distinction, backed by Supreme Court precedent. Direct threats (against the president, for example) are prosecutable under federal law, while indirect threats like the one in this case are not. You'll still get a visit from the Secret Service, but the U.S. Attorney can't charge you for it.

     

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  22.  
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    BW (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 9:47am

    Sue them!!! As you pointed out, they failed in their fiduciary responsibility...

    By failing to respond to the PERCEIVED THREAT in a timely fashion, they endangered the children who might have been harmed had the threat been real. Since they failed to protect the children, they should be sued for negligence. (Think of the children...)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 10:00am

    Re: Sue them!!! As you pointed out, they failed in their fiduciary responsibility...

    This is Canada, the sue everyone mentality doesn't exist here. We city folk also aren't really into the whole gun ownership thing either.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    JustMe (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 10:13am

    Time for a Tim Horton's run!

    I heard that someone said "OISE and the TDSB need to be purged, or burnt to the ground"

    Dear Toronto Police Services officers; please to bring a dozen donuts and a cup of coffee when you leave your country to interview me. Grab some of that sweet sweet Quebecois maple syrup on the way past, too, please.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Gregg, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 10:44am

    Canada is F@%#' 'D up when it comes to free speach

    This is Canada where this happened. Americans have to know how messed up our Free speech is here. Technically we have free speech BUT if the speech can be linked to a threat or hate, then it is a criminal charge. This get's abused ALL THE TIME! and essentially there are people who make it their life long goal to ruin peoples lives by calling out a phrase, sentence or word as a "Hate" crime on other people. It is one of those good intention laws that act as more of a problem to a society in general. I "hate" it none the less.

    Now on top of it, our education system is further NUTS! And this is something the USA is encountering too.

    To give an example (link below) a man in Kitchener Ontario was strip searched, his house searched and thoroughly humiliated when his kindergarten daughter drew a picture of her father shooting aliens and bad guys on a piece of paper.

    Read the link below for more detail. But in the end, the education system, CAS and the Police all said they did nothing wrong, the protocol is proper and remains in place. I would like to know how idiots can get a job for the education system and why the F@%$@ are they teaching our children!


    http://www.citynews.ca/2012/02/24/kitchener-man-strip-searched-after-daughter-draws-p icture-of-gun/

     

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  26.  
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    FarSide (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 10:52am

    Re:

    Language is considered very carefully in legal proceedings.

    Although even more so when it comes to deciphering legal documents, the words you say can be excruciatingly picked apart.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    special-interesting (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 11:36am

    Where I grew up it was normal that the more your cussed and cursed and (figuratively) threatened to kill a person the greater a friend they were.

    Seriously. A normal greeting would be like; How the fuckk have you been doing lately? Ya haven't goddammn talked to me in fuckking ages where the hhell have you been bitchingg around the whole goddammn time since then you asshhole? I'll fuckking kill you if you don't explain why? Shiit! Your Deadd man.

    Haven't felt this comradeship for a while. -wistful-

    I remember getting some backstage passes to a (edited) rock-band concert. While schmoozing with the star while exiting the arena and old friend approached and spoke, in much the same way of the above paragraph, very personally and I'd guess friendly a very way. The star glanced at his bodyguard/staff and tossed the (now -ex) friend out. I still like the music but the rock-star seems aloft and distant now.

    Since then have tried to couch my text and speech with conservative reasoning (and spelling). Obviously the ex-friend was misunderstood. Is this the same thing China citizens go through to avoid censorship or worse?

    Any automated word or phrase detection that does not incur the review of a qualified human is nonsense to the extent that civil law might provide a remedy. What orders does the human follow. Democratic free speech or oppressive black-listing?

    Reactionary: (reading the cool comments)

    Mr. Applegates comment on power are appropriate. Great personal example.

    Ninja, Michael. The police seemed very sensitive. (not breaking the door down and pointing guns at the kids) Did the School superintendent cry wolf? One of the worst things one can suffer from is being ignored when a real problem happens. Imagine this same official calling for help when a real delinquent intrudes on school property.

    AB; did you read this? http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/national/oppn-slammed-over-nsw-right-to-silence-law/story-e6frf ku9-1226601328430 From reddit.com . Is scary but contrast the problems they deal with. (cars with guns and rifles) Nothing an exceptional zoom camera could not solve. [remember the Russian lesson of car cams capturing the chonderite (volatile chemical composition) meteorite. They have car cams because every official is bought and in every accident both parties lie and actual evidence is the only defense regardless of what government policy about such is.]

    Personal input; Abuse must be prevented or civil lawsuits will curtail. If local enforcement officials think along the lines of “have SWAT team will use” thinking... (fill in the blank)

    No comment otherwise.

     

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  28.  
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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Mar 21st, 2013 @ 12:05pm

    Hyperbole: it sounds just like English, but you can't believe a word of it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 2:20pm

    The Blazon Cat Fur blog is actually a pretty annoying right-wing blogs with lots of implicit racism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 4:20pm

    Zero tolerance

    for instance, strip-searching a man whose daughter drew a picture of a gun in class

    Back when I was a kid (in the '80s) I once drew a penis in class. Should the school have pointed a gun at my parents for that?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 5:13pm

    Re:

    It's not that power corrupts, it's that power is attractive to the corruptible and why it should never be granted to those who seek it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    btrussell (profile), Mar 24th, 2013 @ 2:11am

    Re: Zero tolerance

    No. The school realized the evidence wouldn't stand up in court.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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