For a city where 90 percent of its citizens tell pollsters they support and trust police, the Toronto Police Association is under fire for a new fund-raising campaign critics say could be used to intimidate the public.
At the center of the dispute is Craig Bromell who during his three years as head of the 7,000-member Toronto Police Association has stoked the fire of his union power.
Elected after he and eight other officers were cleared of kidnapping a criminal suspect and beating him in a secluded area, Bromell led the city's first wildcat strike of police officers protesting disciplinary action for their use of excessive force against a black TV reporter.
Last year, Bromell told a CBC reporter that when the association "found somebody who is an enemy of the police," they would work to get them "kicked out of office," which would send a message to "all the other loudmouths (to) keep their mouths shut."
To this end, he said on the CBC investigative news program, The Fifth Estate, that the association has hired "private investigators" to "target our enemies."
While Bromell escaped much censure for his previous tactics, the union's fund-raising scheme has pitted him against Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman and Police Chief David Boothby.
The police association has launched a telemarketing effort in which donors are given a car decal colored in bronze, silver or gold, depending on how much money they give.
Aware that Bromell already has an enemies list, Torontonians have reacted with outrage at the notion that they might become targets of police if they do not donate or might receive special treatment if they do.
Lastman condemned the scheme as "a protection racket."
Boothby ordered the police union boss to end the campaign. But Bromell shrugged it off. Noting Boothby ordered him to turn over his badge and gun when he was elected union president, Bromell said he no longer has to take orders from the chief.
On Friday, the Toronto Police Services Board unanimously passed a bylaw banning the campaign. But the union insisted its campaign was legal and would continue.
As the war between the police union and its civilian overseers heated up, even the most ardent police supporters said they were fearful of the union's tactics.
Jeffrey Lyons, vice chairman of the police board, admitted he's had his office swept for listening bugs. He said he felt so "intimidated" that he thought of quitting his post.