Showing posts with label know your rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label know your rights. Show all posts

6.18.2015

thoughts on luxury, plus know your rights, rental edition, part three

We have to move.

We are heartsick over it.

Our landlord is selling the house we live in. We're not letting ourselves get kicked out (see below), but chances are very good we'll have to move, so we're taking steps to find a place sooner rather than later.

With the shock of our landlord's announcement faded - at least a bit! - we've been able to evaluate our options. And sadly, very sadly, we realize that we should stop renting houses and go back to apartment life.

Comfort is easy. Less comfort is not.

It's incredibly easy to grow accustomed to certain comforts and conveniences...and famously difficult to give them up. Entire miniseries and movies are premised on spoiled rich people learning how the other 99% lives. But you need not be Johnny Rose to experience this. Even a little comfort, once savoured, is difficult to part with.

The house we have been renting for the past two years is the nicest place either of us have ever lived in. We'll probably end up living in an apartment that would have once seemed incredible to us: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, beautifully maintained building. But our standard of living has gone up. And it's hard to go back.

The toughest part is the backyard. My last several years in New York City, I craved some bit of outdoor space. I swore that even the tiniest backyard, a little square of grass, would satisfy me. Now it's been 10 years of wonderfully spacious backyards. I can scarcely express how much we have loved this. Every night that weather permits we eat outdoors. If we're home and it's nice out, we are in the backyard. I have treasured this.

We've also become such lazy dog owners! We take our dogs to the dog park and we walk together for fun and exercise. But on a daily basis, we simply open the back door. In New York, we walked our dogs four times a day - two long walks and two quick ones. We walked them in the rain and in the snow. We walked them after work, we walked them in the morning, and late at night. How did we do this?? I can't remember!

Our dogs now spend so much time outside. They chase squirrels and bark at passing trucks. They stare out a window at passers-by. Now they'll be apartment dogs again. They'll have a good life, I know that. But I know what they'll be missing.

There's always an upside.

Of course we've discovered the upside of the situation.

- No stairs for Tala! Because of Tala's spine condition, she cannot walk stairs. We have doggy ramps on the back and front entrances, but she either can't sleep in our bedroom or she comes upstairs only to sleep, but it's a struggle. Apartment life will be easier onTala. And of course all dogs do better without stairs as they age.

- Our monthly expenses will decrease considerably. Rents are high in our area, but the rent on our current house is crazy. We also pay our own utilities, which will be included in an apartment rental. We'll likely reduce our monthly costs by $500 per month, a sizeable change.

- No snow shoveling.

- No lawn mowing.

That's all I came up with.

Know your rights, rental edition, part three

You may recall that last year our landlord tried to raise our rent by 11%, when the legal increase rent was 0.8% for 2014 and 1.6% for 2015. And he wanted the extra money in cash, in an envelope, with no record of the rent increase in writing! When we objected, he first threatened some further illegality, then backed down.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the same landlord is trying to have us move out before we are required to do so. Under Ontario law, the landlord can ask us to move only after he has a buyer, and only after it is determined that the buyer wants to live in the house or have a family member live here. He would then apply for an eviction order and give us 60-days' notice.

But this lovely landlord is in a hurry for us to move: he wants to make improvements on the house that would be impossible with us living here. To do that, he'll either need an order from the Landlord Tenant Board, which is highly unlikely to happen, or he'll need to offer us an incentive to vacate sooner.

Meanwhile, we're looking for apartments. And bemoaning the loss of our backyard.

6.29.2014

know your rights, rental edition, part two

Just about one year ago today - July 8, 2013, to be exact - our area was hit with a massive flood that swamped homes, cars, highways, trains, and . . . our basement. The basement had been Allan's office. The office in which he was working to meet a publishing deadline. Stressful? You could say that.

It could have been much worse. We got an insurance settlement, and we moved - not without some hassles, but we did it, moving in to our current rental home in September.

Now, one year later, we mentioned to our current landlord that it's time to renew our lease. He said he'd come over for a visual inspection. That's his right, as he has only been on the property once since we moved in, when the dryer broke. (Interestingly, he questioned whether we had caused the breakdown through carelessness.) He also said there would be a "nominal" increase in rent.

We made a date, and he and his wife came to do a walk-through. Everything was fine, of course. A pot-light fixture has broken, and needs to be replaced. Mrs. Landlord implied that might have been our fault, just as Landlord had done with the dryer. I was puzzled, and assured her that the light bulb blew out in the normal manner, and when we tried to replace it, we discovered the broken fixture. They also saw the small garden that we had asked for permission to put in.

They said everything looks fine, and they would be happy to make a new lease. Then they said the rent would increase by $200 a month.

When I expressed some surprise, Landlord said he had much higher offers than what he was asking from us, but didn't take them because we're nice people.

I said, "Actually, you're not allowed to stop renting to us in order to get more money from new tenants."

He said, "Well, I could say I need the house back for my own use, but I won't do that. I do everything above-board."

One of the few legal grounds for a landlord to stop renting to a tenant in Ontario is if the Landlord or an immediate relative is moving into the house. So our "do everything above-board" guy is now telling us that he could lie and cheat in order to increase the rent even higher, but he won't.

Mr. Above-Board Landlord then requested that we pay the $200 increase in cash every month. Our 12 months of pre-dated cheques would be for the current rent, and the difference would be paid by cash, in an envelope.

I told him we don't mind paying cash, as long as the lease shows the full amount that we actually pay.

He said, no, he couldn't do that, as "that would defeat the purpose of the cash". Indeed.

I told him no, we would not pay one amount but get a receipt that says we pay a different amount. That would leave us unprotected if "anything happened". (To myself, I thought, What kind of idiots do you take us for? Did you really think we'd be that stupid?)

We didn't respond completely on the spot. The full import of a $200 rent hike hadn't sunk in yet. But once we started investigating, we learned that the current allowable rent increase in Ontario is 0.8%. In 2015, it will be 1.6%. $200 represents a 10.5% increase.

This applies to most units built before 1998. (Amazingly, for units built after 1998, there is no rent control. I could see a higher percentage, but none? I hear we have Mike Harris to thank for that.)

In addition, tenants must be informed of any rent increase in writing, with at least 90 days' notice.

If a landlord seeks to raise the rent more than the allowable rate, she or he must apply to the Landlord-Tenant Board for an exemption. Exemptions may be based on large-scale renovations or tax re-assessments, neither of which apply here.

A few calls to the City revealed that the house we rent was built in 1993.

We informed Mr. Above-Board of the current allowable rent increase, the notice period, and the requirement to inform us in writing.

Now the ball in his court.

I will not be at all surprised if he now informs us that a family member is moving in this house. I say: let him try it.

He has one son in university in Ottawa, another son who is 12 years old. This house has been a rental unit for many years. If Mr. A-BLL now produces a mystery relative who suddenly needs the house - after tenants balk at a 10.5% illegal rent increase - and after he tried to get that increase in cash, under the table - and after he said the property was fine and he was happy to renew our lease - it will look mighty suspicious. I'm thinking the Landlord-Tenant Board can see through that.

One interesting sidenote: had Mr. A-BLL asked for a $50 rent increase - still more than the legal allowable percentage - we probably would have paid it without question. It was only his greed that caused us to investigate and push back.

(And no, we're not sorry we rent. But we're also not planning on moving any time soon.)

7.19.2013

know your rights, rental edition

After a week of looking at houses for rent, we found something we love and put down a deposit. My dread of moving has been mostly replaced with a mixture of resignation and excitement, as this will be a definite upgrade in our standard of living. Life is full of the unexpected. We're very fortunate in many ways - it could be way worse - and I don't want to lose that perspective.

This experience continues to be educational! In addition to the rental scams I saw on Craigslist, the basement disaster and our impending move have provided a refresher course (as if I needed one!) in knowing your rights and asserting them.

Know what you're entitled to

Last week, I emailed our insurance agent with a question, and was told that our claim would be disallowed - none of our losses covered - because we are not covered for flood. I was horrified. Sick to my stomach. What about our sewer backup rider? Our damage was from sewer backup, and we bought an extra rider expressly for that. The language is very clear and straightforward. It doesn't specify or exclude any cause of sewer backup, it just covers loss caused by it. Meaning, it doesn't matter if the sewer backup is caused by a flood. We still should be covered.  I managed to control my emotions and write a coherent email to the agent.

Lo and behold, she got back to me very quickly, saying she "went up the line" and argued on our behalf, and yes, we would be covered in full.

Her reply seemed awfully quick for "going up the line". Was she performing her company duty, attempting to deny coverage? Most people I spoke to thought so. After all, we know health insurance companies in the United States employ people whose sole task is to create obstacles to coverage, to make it so difficult that the patient or their family member gives up and goes away. (Whistleblowers have attested to this.) Obviously I have no proof that this agent was following that approach. It's just difficult for me to see the error as unintentional.

Know what they're not entitled to

We gave our landlord written notice that we were terminating our tenancy - that is, breaking our lease. He returned our rent cheques that would be unused,* but not our security deposit, which should be our last month's rent. LL told Allan that after we moved, he'll inspect the place and we can discuss the security deposit at that time. We knew this was his opening salvo in a move to keep our deposit.

I called to follow up, emphasizing that we need our deposit back (or used as our final month's rent, and the September cheque returned; it amounts to the same thing) in order to make a deposit on another place. He repeated the same line about an inspectionl I requested we arrange this inspection sooner rather than later, so I can get a handle on my finances. He agreed.

After we hung up, I had an idea. With a few seconds of Googling, I learned that what LL was suggesting is illegal under Ontario law. I sent this email.
Hi [LL],

As it turns out, we will have to change the way our last month's rent is being handled. We've learned that under Ontario law, our security deposit can only be used for the last month's rent. It cannot legally be withheld for damages, cleaning, or any other charges.

A summary of appropriate rent/security deposit procedures are summarized here by the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board:

http://www.ltb.gov.on.ca/en/Key_Information/STEL02_111479.html

In particular, I draw your attention to these paragraphs:

Can a landlord charge a person a deposit or a fee to rent a unit?

Yes, a landlord can collect a rent deposit if it is requested on or before the day that the landlord and tenant enter into the tenancy agreement. The rent deposit cannot be more than one month's rent or the rent for one rental period, whichever is less. For example, if rent payments are made weekly, the deposit cannot be more than one week’s rent; if rent payments are made monthly or bi-monthly, the deposit cannot be more than one month’s rent.

The rent deposit must be used for the rent for the last month before the tenancy ends. It cannot be used for anything else, such as to pay for damages.

Does a landlord have to pay interest if a rent deposit is collected?

Yes, the landlord must pay the tenant interest on the rent deposit every 12 months. The amount of interest that a landlord must pay is the same as the rent increase guideline that is in effect when the interest payment is due. The guideline is set each year by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Information about this year’s rent increase guideline can be found in the Brochures by Topic section of our website.

Note: Landlords may deduct the amount needed to update the rent deposit (so that it equals the current rent) from the interest that is owed to the tenant. See previous question.

If the landlord does not pay the interest owed to the tenant when it is due, the tenant can:
- deduct the interest from a future rent payment, or
- file a Tenant Application for a Rebate (Form T1) to the Board.

Can the landlord charge the tenant a damage deposit?

No. A landlord cannot collect a damage deposit that they would use if there is damage done to the unit. Also, a landlord cannot use the last month’s rent deposit to cover damages in the unit.

If the landlord finds that a tenant has damaged the unit or caused damage to the building, the landlord can give the tenant a notice and/or ask them to pay for the damages. If they do not, the landlord can apply to have the Board determine if there are damages and what should be done about them. For more information about the remedies available to a landlord if a tenant causes damage, see the Board’s brochure on Maintenance & Repairs. [end quote]


Accordingly, we are requesting that you return either our rent cheque dated September 1, 2013, or our security deposit in full, plus the interest required by law. If you believe there are damages to the house for which we should be reponsible, we will discuss and negotiate that as a separate matter, as required by law.

We need our security deposit returned promptly so that we can sign a lease on another house, and the law very clearly states that this is our right. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Laura & Allan
This LL is not a kid. He is not a novice. I'm quite sure he knows the provisions of the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act.

We can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board to recover our money. Hopefully we won't have to, but we won't hesitate to do this if need be.

I'm not special

And so, there are two more examples of how you can be ripped off if you don't know - and assert - your rights.

Long ago, after one of these types of posts, a reader thought I was bragging about getting special treatment. Quite the contrary. My point is that we all must do this, and we all can. I know it doesn't come naturally or easily to everyone, but it does get easier with practice - especially if you've ever gotten the positive reinforcement of a good result. I share my stories to show that you can fight back, and that often you must fight back. You can know your rights and you can win.

One final note. When you're doing battle with a landlord or a utility or a telecom company, you need unassailable facts. Don't ask your friends, or if you do, don't rely on their opinions, even if they appear to have inside knowledge. Don't ask the folks who hang out at your favourite message board or social media site. And for dog's sake, don't ask Ask.com or Yahoo! Answers or something similar. Go online and go to the source. And if you're unsure how to find reliable sources online... ask a librarian!



------
* In Canada, as in many European countries, tenants give landlords a year's worth of post-dated cheques. Landlords deposit the appropriate cheque at the beginning of each month, and it's the tenant's job to see that the cheque will clear.

2.27.2012

you can fight your excessive water bill

I'm posting this for Googleability.

If you've received an excessive water bill, there may be an error in your reading, even if the water meter is working correctly. My partner and I recently filed a small claims lawsuit against the Region of Peel to recover excessive water charges we were forced to pay. The judge awarded us a full refund, plus court fees, plus money for our time and effort, plus interest.

If you have received a water bill that is 10 times (or more) your normal rate, and there are no leaks or plumbing issues in your home, and your subsequent bills show normal usage, this may apply to you. To read details of our experience, go here:

advice needed: we really did not use all this water

water bill woes continue. help needed. really really needed.

in which we kick peel's butt

lesson: fight your excessive water bill (My partner's blog)

I haven't written about our preparation for the case or our evidence at trial. If you would like more details, please email me.

2.24.2012

in which we kick peel's butt!

Win? That doesn't even begin to describe it. This was a rout. When the smoke cleared, we were celebrating and they were gasping for air.

$429 and change that we should never have been charged? Check.

$175 in court costs? Check.

But wait, there's more...

$100 for our preparation time,

plus

$400 for our inconvenience, for a grand total of $1104.47 plus interest. Not credits on our account, either. Cold cash, baby!

The judge said, "Frankly, I'm surprised that Peel's legal department would have let this go this far. You could have offered a settlement just to expedite this." You know, the settlement that Allan would have been happy to take, the one he regrets not bargaining for?!

It was a little hairy to start. We were very well prepared, but we weren't aware of certain requirements, thinking, for example, that the exhibits in our initial pleading would be the exhibits at trial. So there was some scurrying about, photocopying and highlighting. The judge was annoyed, and I was under pressure to make my evidence as succinct as possible to compensate for the time we had wasted. This was discouraging, and I worried that the judge might penalize us. But to his credit, he moved on, and decided the case on its merits.

I could tell from the judge's questions that he was leaning in our direction. But during the closing arguments, it became obvious.

I did not have a closing prepared. The judge left the courtroom, giving both sides 15 minutes to gather their arguments, and admonishing us not to read anything, just to speak to him. I grabbed a piece of paper and furiously wrote notes. I was able to incorporate responses to their specious arguments, and recap our main points.

The judge returned, and I spoke uninterrupted.

Then Peel's counsel - an articling student (the equivalent of a summer associate in the US) - began her closing arguments. She couldn't get two sentences out without an interruption. The judge questioned everything she said. Allan wrote on my paper, "He's our best witness!" The judge was not badgering her, he was merely driving an 18-wheeler through the massive holes in Peel's case.

At one point, the law student got so flustered that she actually said, "I acknowledge that the Plaintiffs have made a convincing case that they possibly did not use the water..."

The judge's head shot up. "What did you just say? Could you repeat that?"

She stammered, "I mean, there are reasons to show that it was possible, but they have not shown that it was probable."

Before you feel too sorry for her, I'm sure by that time, he had already decided the case.

The judge said this was a case of "balance of probability," and common sense said that it must be decided in our favour. If the meter reading had been twice as high as normal, or three times as high, or perhaps even four or five times as high as normal, the balance of probability would go to Peel. But a bill this outlandish, nearly 10 times higher than typical usage, and usage returning to normal immediately afterwards, must be the result of some kind of error. None of the conditions Peel's inspectors found in the house could have resulted in the crazy bill, since the subsequent bills - which take in the time of those inspections - were completely normal.

What's more, he said, it is not incumbent on the customer to discover what caused the erroneous bill. We cannot be expected to do so (which we pointed out both in our pleadings and at trial). That we cannot say what condition caused the billing error does not mean we should be forced to pay a bill for water we did not use.

We haven't stopped dancing and laughing. Now I must go, my next glass of red wine awaits.

2.23.2012

our day in court

Remember our crazy water bill? And how tried to fight it?

In the end, we had no choice. We had to pay the bill or Peel would have disconnected our water. After that, our only recourse was to file in small claims court to try to recover the excess payment. We did so, and we had a mandatory (and useless) settlement conference. The trial is tomorrow.

Allan has been working on our case for a long time and is beyond sick of it. Being a classic pessimist, he is convinced we will lose and just wants to get it over with.

I have no idea what will happen and I'm not predicting anything. But whatever happens, I'll know I tried everything. I couldn't live with paying that bill and walking away. We both felt we had to try, no stone unturned. So this is the last stone.

3.31.2011

peel water bill update

There's been a lot of activity in our battle over the bizarre water bill (background here and here), but unfortunately it all amounted to spinning our wheels in mud.

Allan made another round of phone calls and followed yet more trails: the City Manager's office, our MPP's office, the Commissioner of Public Works, the Ministry of Consumer Services, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. We got legal advice from lawyer friends, a lawyer where Allan works, and someone at the Mississagua legal aid clinic who was very generous with her time. We fielded more calls from Peel, asking to know "our decision," meaning, "Are you going to pay or do we shut off your water?"

People were variously shocked, sympathetic or buck-passing, but no one could actually help. It comes down to this: we say you used this water, so you owe us this money.

We had only one option left. We paid the bill and are now going to Small Claims Court to try to recover our money. It's a gamble, but we're willing to take it.

* * * *

It appears that Small Claims Court in Ontario is a much more structured and weighty system than it is in New York City. We hope so.

In New York, you're luckiest if the other party doesn't show (which happens frequently); then you win by default. If the defendant appears, it's a roll of the dice. A lawyer - volunteering in exchange for continuing education credit - hears the case. He or she may take the job seriously and fully listen to both sides, or may be annoyed and impatient by this waste of non-billable time, make a snap judgment and move on to the next case. Your case can be heard by a judge at your request, but it will be weeks or months until a judge is available... then the judge may be no better than the volunteer lawyer.

New York City Small Claims Court is effective for extremely simple, clear-cut cases, such as when someone has done work and not been paid. Many people use it for that - as we did once, long ago - and recover what they are owed, plus interest, plus court fees. For those cases, it works. But for anything even slightly more complex, it's a total crapshoot.

By all appearances, Ontario Small Claims Court seems to operate like an actual court system - but that impression is based only on the information on the website. We hope to file the suit on Monday. Who knows what adventure lies ahead.

3.07.2011

water bill woes continue. help needed. really really needed.

Back in October, I posted about a very strange water bill we received from the Region of Peel. Our three-month bill usually runs around $60, representing 4Ms or a maximum of 5Ms of water. This bill was almost $500, representing 38Ms of water.

In other words, Peel is saying that we used almost two years' worth of water in a three-month period.

We have been fighting this for months, without success, and Peel is now threatening to shut off our water.

Here's what we've done so far:

1. Paid a portion of the bill equivalent to the high end of a normal bill

2. Spoken to our landlord, who was shocked. He's never seen anything like this.

3. Spoken endlessly to a manager at Region of Peel.

4. Had Peel Water inspectors come to the house - twice. Once they obsessed over one toilet, the second time they obsessed over the second one. First they said the toilet chain was 1/8-inch too long. Then they said it was 1/8-inch too short.

However, the toilet is not running and has never been running. We have not changed anything on the toilet at all, and our water bills have returned to normal. In addition, the water inspector told us that there's no way these toilet-chain lengths could have caused this problem. Unfortunately, she said this verbally and did not put that statement in writing.

5. Spoke to our City Councillor's office - twice. They called Peel and had our case bumped up to a manager, so we don't have to go through customer service each time. They said there's nothing else they can do.

6. Called the City Manager of Mississauga's office. They also offered to call Peel on our behalf, but only to see if there's someone else there we can deal with. They made it clear they can't fix the problem.

7. Called the Ontario Ombudsman's office. They are a great agency that gets results, but unfortunately, this falls outside their jurisdiction.

8. Called Mississauga Legal Aid. They said they don't handle things like this, and suggested we call Peel's legal department. Allan did that... and they referred it to the same manager we've been speaking with.

We did not have the meter checked. As the Ontario Ombudsman suggested, having the meter checked can only determine if it is working properly at the time it is checked. We already know the meter is working properly right now, because we've received a normal bill subsequent to the abnormal one. But the meter working properly today does not mean it was working properly in July, August and September of 2010.

In addition, Peel can't tell us when during the three-month period this two-years' worth of water was supposedly used. Did it happen in a day? A week? A month? Was it during the week, when one of us is home every day? Did it occur on a Saturday, when we work 12 hour shifts, then somehow repair itself before we got home? We don't know.

Allan's been handling the lion's share of this effort, but now we are both out of ideas. We don't have $500 to give to the Region of Peel for services we didn't use, but Peel will use hold us hostage for the payment by cutting off our water.

All ideas welcome.

2.28.2011

my police complaint saga comes to a close

In light of the new scathing report on G20 police abuse, and continued calls for an independent inquiry, this seems like a good time to post an update on my own relatively minor police complaint.

I've just written the final chapter in the saga. For those just tuning in:

Part I: What happened.

Part II: My complaint is "withdrawn".

Part III: The OIPRD calls me.

Part IV: I feel I have no choice; the complaint becomes an investigation.

* * * *

A few weeks ago I received the finding of the investigation, the gist of which is summarized in this paragraph.
Taking into consideration all the information we have received to date, I am of the view that based on reasonable grounds the allegations cannot be substantiated. There is insufficient reason to conclude misconduct was committed by the officer.

There is an opportunity to request a review by the OIPRD. I did not do so, but I did write this letter.

* * * *
I am writing in response to the findings in the above-referenced complaint. I have received the Investigative Report and the letter of review of the OIPRD Liaison Officer, copies of which are attached. While I believe a formal review by the OIPRD will not change the outcome of this decision, I wish to comment on the complaints process and to reply to some of the findings of the investigation.

The complaint process

When I originally met with Detective Smith [not her real name] on November 17, 2010 to make my complaint, Detective Smith informed me that I had three options – informal resolution, withdrawal and investigation. She explained both informal resolution and investigation in very negative terms, and made those options seem inappropriate for my complaint. She took great pains to explain that “withdrawal” of the complaint would not mean the complaint is withdrawn, insisting that it was poorly named, and that the complaint would remain on the officer’s record. I signed a withdrawal, and noted that I was signing it with the understanding that the complaint was not actually being withdrawn, but would remain in the officer’s personnel file for accountability.

On November 29, 2010 I received a call from someone at the OIPRD informing me that a withdrawn complaint is indeed withdrawn. The OIPRD representative told me that the complaint would remain in a database with the notation “withdrawn”, but no other details would be on record, nor would the complaint remain on the officer’s record. Based on this new information, I felt I had been intentionally misled, and withdrew the withdrawal of my complaint.

When Detective Smith received notice that I had withdrawn my withdrawal, she called me, and I met with her for a second time, on December 6, 2010, intending to enter into an Informal Resolution. At that meeting, Detective Smith read to me the statements by the other police officers who witnessed the incident. While I fully expected them to corroborate their colleague’s version of events, and never expected them to agree with a civilian’s complaint, hearing their blatant lies was upsetting. I was angry at their conveniently edited version of the incident, and because of this, I decided to pursue the investigation.

The findings of the investigation

As stated above, I had no expectations that this investigation would substantiate my allegations. This was a case of my word against the word of three police officers (the Respondent Officer plus two Witness Officers). At least 10 civilians also witnessed the incident, but I have no way of identifying or contacting any of them. I did not sustain permanent injuries or nor did I require medical attention, so there is no physical evidence of the pain and fear I experienced. One would have to be extremely na?ve to believe any other outcome was possible.

Despite this, I ask the OIPRD to consider these points.

1. In the “Analysis” section of the Investigative Report, it is noted that I was unsure of the exact words the officer used and said, “Don’t quote me on that”. I wish to be extremely clear on this point.

When I filed my complaint online on December 28, and when I spoke to Detective Smith on November 17, I quoted the exact words the officer used. Immediately following the incident, on the bus on the way home from Toronto, I wrote down the details so I could remember them.

When I met with Detective Smith the second time, on December 6, I had no notes in front of me and no longer remembered the exact words that the officer used. I worked as a journalist for many years, and I do not quote people unless I am certain of their exact words. When I said, “Don’t quote me on that,” I was speaking literally. At that moment, more than two months after the incident, I did not remember if the officer had yelled “Stay the hell out of the street!” or “Stay the f - - k out of the street!” or “Get the hell out of the street!” or some other similar phrase. I was in no way implying that I couldn’t remember the tone and general meaning of her statement. Checking my notes, I can attest that the Respondent Officer’s exact words were, “Do you want me to arrest you? You stay the hell out of the street.”

2. In the “Analysis” section of the Investigative Report, it is stated:
There was no question about the identity of the person being a police officer; however, at the end of her interview she [the Complainant] stated that the Respondent Officer should have told her that she was a police officer.
This is taken out of context. In my interview, I said that had the officer approached me in a normal fashion, identified herself as a police officer and asked me to move aside, I would absolutely have done so, as I would submit to her authority, as opposed to the production assistant’s request. But the Respondent Officer never asked me to move. Instead, she charged at me with her arms extended, pushed me against a barricade and pinned me there for several seconds while screaming at me.

My complaint had nothing to do with the Respondent Officer failing to identify herself. My point was that she never asked or told me to move, nor gave me the opportunity to respond to such a request or demand. Her first and only reaction was the use of physical and verbal force.

3. In the statement read to me by Detective Smith, one of the Witness Officers claims that during the entire film shoot, I was the only civilian to complain about the blocked intersection or to attempt to cross the intersection. However, when I arrived at the intersection, several people were already loudly complaining. People were insisting that they be allowed to cross the street, asking how much longer they would be delayed, and so forth. One officer yelled at the crowd, “Just use the subway!”, and several people shouted back that the subway had also been closed. The Witness Officer has mischaracterized the entire scene, including the incident in question.

4. The Respondent Officer does not deny making physical contact with me, but says this was necessary to prevent me from entering traffic. If this is the case, I must wonder why the Respondent Officer continued to pin my arms against the metal barricade with great force, why she leaned into my face and yelled at me, and threatened me with arrest. Surely she could not have believed she was protecting me at that point. Cars from the film shoot were speeding down the street, and there was no reason to imagine I would run into moving traffic. I was not resisting the Respondent Officer, speaking to her or even making eye contact with her. Her actions, words and demeanor contradict her statement that she was acting to protect me from harm.

Conclusion

Finally, I appeal to simple logic and reason. I am a 50-year-old woman. I have never been arrested. I have never sued anyone or lodged a formal complaint against anyone. If this incident never took place – if the Respondent Officer had not charged at me, pushed me into the barricade, leaned into my face and yelled forcefully at me – why would I go to all this trouble? Why would I (1) file a complaint online, (2) meet with Detective Smith on November 17, (3) meet with Detective Smith again on December 6 (both meetings necessitating a trip from Mississauga to Toronto), (4) give a taped interview and (5) write this letter? Why would anyone go to all this trouble if it hadn’t happened?

I took the trouble to report this incident because I was mildly assaulted by a police officer using inappropriately excessive physical and verbal force. If the Respondent Officer reacted this strongly to a verbal argument between two people on the street, what will she do in a more extreme and potentially dangerous situation? I felt her actions were unwarranted, frightening, even unstable, and that they should be reported.

Further, during the complaints process itself, I was encouraged to withdraw my complaint. If I was given incorrect information by the OIPRD – if a withdrawn complaint means something other than a withdrawn complaint – then perhaps the Toronto Police Service should re-name the “withdrawal” option to something more readily understood. However, if the information I was given by the OIPRD was correct – which I strongly suspect is the case – then I must wonder how many civilian complaints against the Toronto Police Service are withdrawn under the same conditions, thus burying a potentially substantial portion of actual civilian complaints.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Sincerely, etc. etc., with copies to the Detective "Smith" and the investigator.

The end.

12.07.2010

police complaint update: it's now an investigation

I met with the police again yesterday, and was so dissatisfied that I chose the third option for the complaint: I escalated it to an investigation. I don't think what happened to me warrants an investigation, but no other option was acceptable to me.

Background:

Part I: What happened.

Part II: My complaint is "withdrawn".

Part III: The OIPRD calls me.

The day after I received the call from the OIPRD, the complaint coordinator - the female detective who misinformed me - called. She was shocked - shocked! - to hear that I was withdrawing my withdrawal. In all her years in her position, this was the first time such a thing had ever happened. I told her if that's true, perhaps it's because most complainants don't discover the truth.

I related to her what I was told: that a "withdrawn" complaint is indeed withdrawn, and never intersects with the officer's performance evaluations or personnel file in any way.

I told her I believe she intentionally misled me, which gave me serious concerns, not for my complaint, but for what this might mean for the Toronto Police. How many complainants are being steered towards withdrawing complaints, believing they are doing something very different? How many legitimate complaints get buried this way?

She denied this, and denied the OIPRD's explanation of a withdrawn complaint. We set up an appointment for me to come in for another interview. I did this yesterday.

The detective was again very cordial and professional. She reiterated her version of what a "withdrawal" means - that it's the wrong word, that it does stay on the officer's file for two years, that the officer's supervisor will see it, that it is an accountability mechanism.

I reiterated what I was told by the OIPRD: that a withdrawn complaint is marked as "withdrawn" in the database of all complaints, and nothing happens after that - it is simply noted as withdrawn. I told her that if the OIPRD is correct, then I was intentionally misled.

She asked, "But why? Why would I do that?"

I felt like saying, "Isn't it obvious?" Omitting that, I said, "To reduce the number of complaints against the Toronto Police Service. To make complaints go away, to make the police force look better."

She said, "If you do that, it will only come back to bite you in the ass anyway. And besides, I have to look at myself in the mirror. I could not do my job that way."

We agreed it was strange and confusing, as both versions - hers and the OIPRD's - could not be true. She said she wouldn't speculate on the OIPRD representative's motive or how they do their job, but clearly and flatly denied that interpretation of a withdrawn complaint.

We left it at that, and then discussed my other options. The OIPRD representative thought that the informal resolution process might work for me. (Everyone is very careful to say, "I'm not telling you what to do, it's up to you, but this might be what you want...") The detective said I could do that if I want, but this complaint is not really resolved, as the officer believes her actions were justified. But meanwhile, I'm thinking that the third, higher option - investigation - seemed so unwarranted. I didn't have serious injuries, wasn't beaten up or illegally detained. It was a minor incident, I simply wanted it documented and the officer to be accountable.

I was all set to do the informal resolution process, when I asked about the other officer that was on the scene. Would it be possible to find out who that was? The detective shuffled through the papers in my file, and only then did I realize there were statements from all the officers who were present that evening.

The detective read from the male officer's statement. I heard that I darted out into the street (I did not), that the female cop "escorted" me back behind the barricades (interesting word choice!), that I yelled and cursed at the female cop, saying something like "Get your hands off me! Get the hell away from me!"

All lies. I said, "That's it, I've heard enough. We'll do the investigation."

We all know that police officers lie to protect each other. That's a well-known fact. But hearing my own story re-written in such a way just made my blood boil. I never physically attempted to walk in the street - I was arguing with the production assistant, but not getting past her. The cop did not "escort" me behind the barricade - she ran at me with both arms extended, pushed me hard against the barricades, leaned into me and yelled in my face. And I did not resist in any way. The officer seemed so angry and out of control, I was afraid that even looking at her might escalate the situation. While she yelled at me, I froze, and looked down and away from her. I did or said nothing until she released me. My hurt and surprise at my own inaction caused me to write this: "in which i learn the lasting effects of the g20 police brutality".

[An aside: the male officer on the scene noted that in an all-day film shoot, where thousands of people were similarly prevented from crossing the intersection, "the complainant" - yours truly - was the only person who caused a problem by attempting to cross the street. And it was the first time a withdrawn complaint had ever been un-withdrawn. And the first time a Heys Luggage backpack had developed rips in the mesh pockets. I'm the first writer to ever question the terms of a magazine's contracts. I'm the first support-staff employee to ask for a raise; everyone else is completely satisfied. Yes, my complaint is always the first. But I'm no trailblazer. Your complaint will probably be the first, too. It's a kind of indirect peer pressure: no one else is doing it, maybe you shouldn't do it either. Funny, my replacement backpack developed the same rips in only three weeks. What a coincidence.]

I asked the detective if she needed any more information from me. She asked if I would be willing to make a short, taped statement. I told the story into a tape recorder, she asked me a few follow-up questions, and I was on my way. I'll next hear from them in January. After a decision is made, if I am not satisfied, I can appeal to the OIPRD; the next decision of the OIPRD is final. I don't expect anything to come of this, as I didn't sustain serious injuries and I have no witnesses on my side. But at least it will be documented.

As I've said in my previous posts, what happened to me was not very serious. I know this and have acknowledged it from the outset. But if this officer was so aggressive and out-of-control over someone verbally arguing about crossing a blocked intersection, how will she react in a high-pressure situation? If her first response is to grab, shove and yell, what will she do if someone actually does yell back? She said in her statement that she was protecting me from imminent danger. Maybe my little complaint will help protect someone else from danger.

11.30.2010

police complaint update: i was misled: withdrawn means withdrawn

You remember I had a brief but unpleasant run-in with a Toronto cop: here.

I filed a complaint, and when I went in for the interview, I was told I had three options: informal resolution, withdrawal and formal complaint. The detective took great pains to explain to me - several times - that "withdrawal" didn't actually mean withdrawal, that it's an incorrect term for that option. She specifically told me - several times - that a withdrawn complaint is an "accountability mechanism", because the complaint will stay on the officer's record for two years. The department can thus see if this was an isolated incident or if there is a pattern of similar behaviour.

The detective was clearly steering me in the direction of withdrawal. She said the first option, informal resolution, required a face-to-face meeting with the officer and was a route seldom taken. The third option, formal complaint, was a long, involved process involving an investigation and usually reserved for allegations of serious misconduct. The middle option, withdrawal, was presented as the "just right" solution to provide what I was looking for.

Given all this, I signed a withdrawal, but in the space for "reasons for withdrawal" I wrote: I understand that the details of this complaint will remain on the officer's record for two years, as an accountability mechanism. That is what I wanted, so the complaint can be withdrawn with that understanding.

Yesterday I received a phone call from someone at the OIPRD who files and tracks complaints. When she read my withdrawal form, she thought I had the wrong impression of the option I had chosen. And indeed I did.

Withdrawn means exactly what it says. The complaint is withdrawn. It remains in a police database of every complaint that is filed. The database shows the officer's name, complainant's name, place and date of incident; under resolution, it would read: "withdrawn". A withdrawn complaint does not go in the officer's personnel file. The officer's supervisor does not see it. It does not become part of their performance evaluation. Because it has been withdrawn.

The OIPRD person explained that the informal resolution process is often used in cases like this, and does provide the accountability I was seeking. Both complainant and officer are given an opportunity to explain their positions, and the details are recorded in the officer's personnel file, seen by her supervisor, and become part of her performance evaluation.

I do not see how this could have been a misunderstanding on my part. In the interview, the detective took great pains to explain, in detail, several times, that a "withdrawn" complaint remains on the officer's record for two years - in exactly the way it does not. I was deliberately misled.

Both detectives were so friendly, even jolly, as we chatted about the inconveniences of film shoots in Toronto. Perhaps cynically, I viewed that friendliness as good customer service practice. Now I see it as something more sinister.

The clerk who called is going to speak to her supervisor to see how a withdrawn complaint can be un-withdrawn and re-activated, so we can begin an informal resolution process.

How many complaints against Toronto police are withdrawn under these conditions?

11.17.2010

update on toronto police complaint

You may recall that I had a minor incident with a Toronto police officer in late September. Along with many other people, I was prevented from crossing the street by a photo shoot, and was in danger of missing my GO bus - which would mean an additional hour of commute in between my two 12-hour weekend shifts. While I was wrangling with the condescending production assistant, a police officer completely over-reacted, charging at me, grabbing my arms and shoving me against the barricade. I filed a complaint, and today was my interview about that complaint.

(As an aside, I'd like to note that I always intended to file the complaint. Hoping to stave off some anticipated cynicism, I noted that the complaint would probably do nothing - which perhaps gave an impression that I might not follow through. That was not in doubt.)

Going to the interview, I was quite nervous. I've been more nervous dealing with police as I get older, maybe because I've seen more of the reality of what can happen. The ongoing harassment at the US-Canada border isn't helping, either.

I'm pleased to report that the interview was completely painless. A female detective escorted me to her office and explained her role as an internal mediator between the public and police officers. In the middle of her spiel, we were joined by a male detective, who she introduced as her partner. I was decidedly less comfortable sitting in a room with two police officers, but I tried not to focus on it.

Female Detective asked me what I hoped to accomplish through my complaint. I said I felt the officer had reacted in an overly aggressive manner, and that it was my responsibility to report it. That was all.

Ms Detective explained there were three routes I could take. The first is called an "informal resolution," in which the officer and the complainant are brought together for a face-to-face meeting with the detective as mediator. Needless to say, very few people take this option!

Second, there is a poorly-named option called a "withdrawal," which Ms Detective assured me does not mean the complaint is withdrawn. It means the complaint and the officer's response goes into the officer's record for two years. That gives a two-year window to see if this was an isolated incident, or if similar incidents are piling up. It's an accountability mechanism.

The third option would be an investigation, in which there would be lengthy interviews and reports written up. She was clearly downplaying this route, but if I thought it was warranted, I would have done it anyway.

The middle option, a so-called "withdrawn" complaint placed in the police officer's file, was the right thing to do. I wrote a short statement of why I was choosing this option, which included my understanding that the complaint would be on record for two years.

Both detectives displayed a lot of empathy for the frustration of dealing with film shoots, having your activities hampered by their needs taking priorities over the public's, possibly missing one's GO train. Naturally they couldn't express empathy with the specifics of my complaint against the officer. The female detective simply read the officer's response: that she was "saving" me from a high-risk situation in which I maight have been hurt. But they were all kinds of sympathetic about my situation that night.

Whether this empathy was real or strategic, I can't say, and perhaps it doesn't matter, because it was an intelligent - and successful - approach. We've chatted about customer service on wmtc, such as in my problems with Heys Luggage (here, with follow-up here and here). This was definitely good customer service. And believe me, I'm aware that my privilege as a white, middle-aged woman was at play, and that fact that no protest or civil disobedience was involved.

I also learned that Toronto police who work on film shoots are paid by the production companies, not by the City of Toronto. Mr. Detective said that Rob Ford wants to stop that practice, and replace police on film shoots with private security guards - which would end public accountability altogether. Both detectives were opposed to this idea, but Mr. Detective said they shouldn't worry too much, because he can't make that change on his own, it's procedural and would need all kinds of approvals.

Mr. Detective also said he knew of a neighbourhood group that was so frustrated by the inconveniences of a lengthy film shoot in their community that they gathered armed with vuvuzelas! Every time the PAs called for quiet... guess what. The detective told the story with a touch of admiration in his voice.

10.22.2010

advice needed: we really did not use all this water

Yesterday I received a water bill from the Region of Peel. These bills cover a three-month period and usually run around around $60.

My current bill is $494.43.

Our average daily water usage is usually 4M or 5M. On this bill, it's 38M.

[Correction: our past average daily consumption has been 330 litres, 538 litres, 337 litres, 404 litres, and so on. On this bill, our average daily consumption is 3,918 litres.

The 4M or 5M figure represents our consumption for the entire three-month period. On this bill, it is 38M.]

I don't know what unit of measurement an "M" is, but I know we didn't use an 38 of them - nine times our normal water usage.

I immediately called Peel, expecting to hear that they had a computer problem and were issuing everyone new bills. Instead, the rep suggested I check the meter to see if it coincided with their reading. It did. It was only very slightly higher from the end of the billing cycle until the day of my phone call. Thus, they said, we used this water. The end.

We've now placed several calls to Peel. We've been told that there is no way that a water meter can malfunction. It works, they say, much like an odometer. The car wheels turn, the numbers representing kilometers or miles turn with it. The water in the pipes moves past the meter, the numbers turn. The meter supposedly cannot accelerate or turn at an incorrect rate. So we are told.

The meter also has a flow indicator. If the flow indicator is moving, water is running in your home. So if you're not aware of any water use, but the flow indicator is moving, that means there is a leak. The flow indicator on our meter was not running.

The Region of Peel representatives tell us that the two most likely culprits for overly high water bills are running toilets or outside faucets left open, sometimes from vandalism. We have had neither. What's more, we've had a running toilet on occasion in years past, and it never accounted for anything even close to this kind of water bill.

We asked for a day-by-day breakdown of the billing cycle, so we could see exactly when this crazy water usage supposedly occurred. They said they cannot supply that.

Now a technician will come to the house to check the meter. But we're told this is done "as a courtesy," to see if there is a leak (which there isn't).

I usually pay my bill in full online, but in this case, I will write a cheque for the amount of a typical bill, as a show of good faith, and send it with a letter explaining the partial payment.

Then what?

How do I handle this? Can my MPP help me? The City of Mississauga? The Region of Peel does not appear to have an ombudsman. Ontario has an Ombudsman, and it appears that they handle municipal matters. Does this qualify? Is it too soon for to take that step?

Any advice?

9.25.2010

in which i learn the lasting effects of the g20 police brutality

This evening I was slightly roughed up by a Toronto cop. And the first thing I thought of - unlike anything I've ever experienced before - was, "Don't talk back, don't move, don't look at her. Don't escalate." I thought of the G20, and I thought, I don't want to get hurt, I don't want to get arrested.

That's how terrorism works.

I got out of work early tonight, 7:00 instead of the usual 10. King Street in front of Scotia Plaza was barricaded off for a film shoot. I ignored it and stepped past some traffic cones. I could hear someone with a megaphone on the other side of the street directing people to move me. One of the production assistants asked me to leave. I said, "Sorry, I'm not missing my bus for your movie."

I managed to get to the corner of King & Bay, where people were being held on all four corners, and I tried to cross the street. A production assistant told me I couldn't go. I told her my bus runs once per hour, and I'm not going to miss it. She said, "We're all tired and cold, too, but we have to be patient."

I said, "You may be tired and cold, but you're getting paid. I'm trying to get home, and I'm not going to miss my bus."

I tried to go. She tried to stop me. I tried to go.

From the other side of the intersection, a female cop came charging at me with her arms fully extended, grabbed my upper arms and shoved me back into the metal barricade. I was wearing a full backpack, which absorbed the shock. Had I not been wearing a backpack, she would have hurt me.

Leaning into my face, she screamed, "Do you want me to arrest you? You stay the hell out of the street."

I looked away and offered no resistance. This is very unlike me. It's not the first time I've been confronted by an overheated cop, but it's the first time I didn't resist.

As the female cop accosted me, a male pedestrian came over and yelled at her, "What are you doing? How long are we going to have to stand here?" A male cop then appeared, shouting, but also intervening between me and the out-of-control female cop. He said, not looking at me, "When a police officer tells you to do something, you do it! You were about to get run over by 10 different cars! They have a permit to use the street!" I shouted back that I had not disobeyed a police officer, but he wasn't looking or listening to me.

The male pedestrian and the male cop got in a shouting match. The cop told him he could cross underground in the subway - at which point several people yelled back that the subway was closed, too.

Meanwhile, several fake New York City yellow cabs were driving by. The male cop yelled at the male pedestrian, "Just because they're shooting a New York City scene doesn't mean you have to act like a New Yorker!"

That was pretty funny on several levels, especially since in New York I used to walk through film shoots all the time. I worked in Rockefeller Center, and if I stopped for every film shoot, I'd never get back from my lunch break on time.

While the male cop was yelling, the film production assistant was saying, "Why don't you all just take a deep breath. Maybe chilling out and taking an extra minute would be a good idea." That was the most galling thing of all. I don't need a flunky on a film shoot giving me relaxation advice! Just do your job. Don't lecture me on how I'm supposed to like it.

When they released the crowd and I walked down King Street, I could feel where the officer had grabbed my arms. And I realized, sadly, why I didn't make eye contact, why I didn't yell or push back: the brutality of the policing at the G20. I felt really sad and defeated by this.

I got her badge number. I know what it will do - nothing - but I plan to report it anyway.

3.03.2010

advice needed on erroneous parking ticket

Last week I parked at what I thought was a Toronto Parking Authority "Green P" lot, but apparently is a lot operated by a private company called Imperial Parking, or Impark.

The machine appeared to take my money (credit card payment) but did not print out a receipt. This had happened to me once before at the same lot, and I learned that I was supposed to call the phone number on the machine. I tried to do so, but couldn't get through.

I left a note on my dashboard saying that the machine wasn't printing receipts.

When I came back, I had a ticket.

I called Impark the next day, and was told that, since I was already on record as having had a ticket cancelled, and at that time had been informed to call from the parking lot, they would not cancel the ticket.

However, since I paid by credit card, when the payment showed up on my statement, I could fax the statement to them and they would accept it as proof of payment.

I found this very annoying. Their machines don't work properly, but the onus is on the customer to prove that she has paid. Surely if the machines weren't printing receipts, I am not the only person this happened to that night. Can't they check the system to see if the machines were off-line or malfunctioning? No. I have to take the time and expense to fax a copy of my credit card statement to Vancouver.

Payment for parking usually appears on a credit card statement in 3-5 days. I've waited a full week, and still no payment has posted. Obviously the machine appeared to take my payment but did not.

Today I called Impark again. They will not cancel the ticket, because they have already cancelled a ticket for me and cannot - make that will not - cancel another. I was supposed to call from the parking lot. I told the agent that I tried, but couldn't get through. She said that's not possible because it's an automated, 24-hour number. I was supposed to leave a message. I heard no opportunity to leave a message.

The agent informed me that she could reduce the ticket from $42.61 to $30, and hold that amount for one week. After that, it will become an unpaid ticket at $74.15.

I offered to pay for the cost of parking, which was $5.00, but she said she can't do that (and acted like I was insane for suggesting it).

I have contacted the Toronto Parking Authority. They have no jurisdiction over Impark, a private company, so I asked for the name of the agency that oversees private parking companies. Presumably Impark is awarded a contract by the City of Toronto, so there must be some oversight. The Toronto Parking Authority said to their knowledge there is no oversight agency.

I'm not paying $30 for $5 parking, which I tried to pay in the first place, because this company's meters are not properly maintained.

Any ideas on what I can do?