Police board chair faces the Facebook music

By Gerald V. Paul

Alok Mukherjee Toronto Star photo
Alok Mukherjee
Toronto Star photo

Dr. Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Police Services Board, is in hot water over a post on his personal Facebook page contrasting the small number of American deaths caused by the Islamic State and ebola with the death toll caused by American police officers, resulting in major fallout.

The post, created by Occupy Wall Street, read: “Americans killed by ISIS: 3, Americans killed by ebola: 2, Americans killed by the police: 500 each year.”

Mukherjee has since removed the post.

But that hasn’t stopped it from burning up social media and it may threaten to bring down Mukherjee, who has said he is sorry. He said he did not provide context and failed to explain that he was not making a comparison with Toronto police officers. However, he maintains it is a pertinent issue.

“The issue needs to be talked about,” said the veteran human rights activist.

The disturbance comes at a time when, among other things, the board is searching for a new police chief, is considering reforms around racial profiling and carding, and attempts are being made to examine how over 90% of the budget is going to pay salaries and benefits at a time when crime rate is dropping.

Mukherjee said the reaction is very similar to reports of his previous posting about policing in Russia, China or India.

“They were never meant to be taken in any way as an aspersion on Toronto police. I cannot help but wonder about the real motivation behind the persistent attack, even after I have clarified.”

Mayor John Tory said the judgment involved in Mukherjee’s posting “isn’t good” but the fallout “is evidence of the dysfunction” in the relationship.

“I feel quite strongly that all people in public positions of responsibility like this, especially sensitive public positions, have to be extra careful about what they put on their Facebook page or put out on Twitter. It requires great caution because your words and actions can be misconstrued or misunderstood by some people.”

Police Union head Mike McCormack is demanding Mukherjee step down and announced that he filed a complaint with the provincial oversight body, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, asking that Mukherjee be removed.

“We would like to see his resignation because our concern is that he’s lifted the veil on his true personal feelings. He not impartial and he’s biased,” McCormack said.