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A trail-blazing cop is accused of helping the next generation cheat. Inside a scandal rocking Toronto police


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A trail-blazing cop is accused of helping the next generation cheat. Inside a scandal rocking Toronto police

According to her own words, Stacy Clarke never envisioned a career in police because she didn’t see herself — as a Black woman — represented within the rank and file.

When she did join the Toronto Police Service in 1998, it was a result of the force’s “valiant” effort to “recruit within our diverse communities,” she said, speaking about her career in the police podcast, 24 Shades of Blue. Still, after her hire, she continued to sense the organizational culture was not doing enough to add racial diversity to leadership ranks.

“I again was not seeing myself represented in those positions,” she said.

That podcast was recorded soon after Clarke’s February 2021 promotion to superintendent, when she became the first Black woman to attain that rank in the force’s then-183-year-old history.

Yet within months, the police force was rocked by Clarke’s high-profile suspension in an alleged cheating scandal.

The trail-blazing Toronto police leader was accused of helping several junior officers cheat on a sergeant’s exam. Clarke, who was a member of the senior interview panel, allegedly transmitted photos of the interview questions for the promotional process to three constables. She also provided confidential information to three officers seeking promotions, according to the details of the allegations under the Police Services Act.

So far, Clarke has been served on seven charges: three counts of breach of confidence, three counts of discreditable conduct and insubordination. She faces an eighth misconduct charge relating to text messages sent to a Toronto Police Services Board staff member and a civilian employee, according to sources.

If convicted after a hearing in front of a police tribunal, Clarke faces penalties ranging from a reprimand or demotion to dismissal.

Clarke is also connected to a separate disciplinary case; on Thursday, Staff Sgt. Kirwin Marshall was charged with misconduct over the contents of text messages found on Clarke’s phone, which was seized as part of the cheating investigation.

Marshall is accused of making comments in conversation with Clarke that “belittled the Pride parade, contained racist or ethnic stereotypes and were insulting to senior officers of the organization.” His lawyer told the Star that Marshall looks forward to telling the tribunal his side of the story.

Clarke will not face a misconduct charge over the text conversation with Marshall.

On Friday, Clarke made another brief virtual appearance before the disciplinary hearing officer Robin McElary-Downer, South Simcoe’s retired deputy chief brought in as adjudicator. Hearing dates were set for Dec. 12 and 13 at police headquarters in downtown Toronto. (Since her charges, Clarke has been reinstated and placed on administrative duties.)

Neither Clarke nor her lawyer, Joe Markson, have commented. At her last appearance before the disciplinary tribunal, Markson told McElary-Downer he is still waiting for expert reports that will provide a “very relevant and necessary dimension to inform this matter and its next steps.”

Prominent Toronto lawyer Scott Hutchison has been brought in as an external prosecutor.

Meanwhile, the rank-and-file membership, other senior officers and community leaders are keenly following what will come of an officer some had speculated was on her way to becoming Toronto’s top cop.

Among those watching closely are internal critics who have long complained of a two-tier system of discipline. They feel rank-and-file officers are under a microscope while allegations involving senior command are swept under the carpet.

In this case, the six constables Clarke allegedly helped are no longer eligible for the promotions they applied for. At least one is facing a misconduct charge before the tribunal. Meanwhile, Marshall — a member of the police union — is facing a charge for the text conversation with Clarke, while the senior officer — not a member — is not.

“The Service has taken the position that the higher the rank, the higher the standard one should be held to,” Toronto Police Association president Jon Reid said in a statement released Friday.

“We will continue to watch closely to determine if, in fact, that happens. Without the fair and equal application of the rules, our members will continue to lose faith and the public will continue to lose confidence in the disciplinary system.”

Externally, Clarke’s fate is being closely watched by her many champions.

“Overall, we’re still in support of her and hope she is vindicated,” David Betty, president of the Jamaican Canadian Association, said earlier this month. He was among a handful of supporters on the zoom hearing call Friday.

Betty said he is not familiar with details of the allegations. But he told the Star he and others feel if Clarke did something offside, it was likely in response to systemic issues within the police service.

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“This could be a case of the system itself forcing activities or actions to create some equity where there is none,” he said.

Regardless of the disciplinary outcome, Betty hopes there will be some external analysis, where someone “with a different lens looks at the promotional process and provides some candid feedback as to how it could be improved.”

When Clarke was promoted early last year, she said she was “humbled” about reaching the superintendent level — the force’s fourth-highest rank.

“I feel the weight most definitely, and I feel the responsibility to lift as I am climbing. There is a true ownership of that position that I continue to pave the way for others, so they can see themselves within our organization and ranks, within our organization as well, which is equally as important.”

Her elevation was significant on many levels, Jackie Edwards, president of the Association of Black Law Enforcers , said at the time.

“It responds to a call for greater representation of Black people in the senior ranks,” she said in an interview with Toronto-based journalist Ron Fairfair. “It is also important because of her long-standing respect and demonstrated understanding of the concerns of the Black and racialized communities.”

Then-interim Toronto police Chief James Ramer — who took charge of the country’s largest municipal force after Mark Saunders’ abrupt retirement in 2020 — was among the police leaders who participated in a 90-minute tribute to Clarke that was livestreamed on YouTube and organized by prominent members of Canada’s Jamaican community.

Her promotion came at a time when the TPS was seeking “with more urgency than ever to become the progressive police service that our communities demand,” Ramer said. He also cited the “meaningful partnerships” she had helped forge between police and the Black community.

“Your position of influence will bring a diversity and perspective and experience to our leadership table and it will make us better and it will make it strong,” Ramer said. Ramer added he was proud to support his former gym workout buddy as she blazes a trail “for those who will come after you. They will be lucky to have such inspired shoulders to stand on.”

Scott Blandford, an assistant professor of policing and public safety at Wilfrid Laurier University, is familiar with the allegations against Clarke.

“She was, and still is, under tremendous pressure because of being thrust into that position,” he said of her rise to senior command.

While the promotional process in policing is supposed to be “very objective and fair, with everyone having the equal opportunity for promotion,” in reality that doesn’t always happen, Blandford added.

He spent three years redesigning the promotional process for the London, Ont., police service, where he worked for 30 years.

“A lot of times, it’s who you’ve had as a supervisor that helps guide you through the process and it’s a very complex process,” he said.

It’s expected good leaders will serve as mentors to help groom people to move up the ladder. But there would be a problem if someone, as a member of the current sitting review panel, didn’t recuse him or herself from the actual selection process involving candidates they were coaching.

Clarke had been mentoring the six candidates and was instructed to “cease all contact with applicants” weeks before allegedly providing them with “confidential information to advance their position in the process,” the disciplinary notice of hearing states.

Blandford explained: “The problem is that there is a process, and if there is a scarcity or paucity of applicants of colour, of minority status who are not getting through the promotional process, at her rank, there is a way to bring that forward and create a formalized mentoring program for those people.”

He added that police promotions are fiercely competitive, and there is always been an “internal culture and politics involved.” In the Toronto Police Service, there are 8,000 uniform and civilian employees and only about 160 senior officer positions at the rank of inspector above. (In descending order, the senior rank structure of Toronto police goes: chief, deputy chief, staff superintendent, superintendent, staff inspector and inspector.)

To ensure there’s a level playing field in the promotional process, there needs to be a career development component as well, Blandford said. The trouble can be that many senior leaders lack supervisory training that teaches them how to develop their people properly, he said.

Of course, the best-qualified person should always get promoted.

“The problem is getting to that qualifying state that is quite often the issue.”

Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy

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