The Toronto Police Association (TPA) is the largest single association of its kind in Canada and represents approximately 8,000 civilian and uniform members of the Toronto Police Service. The TPA was officially incorporated as a non-profit organization on December 3, 1956. Throughout its existence, the TPA’s fundamental purpose has been to “protect those who protect others” and to promote the interests of its membership.

The objectives of the Association are to:

  • Uphold the honour of the police profession
  • Promote and advance the social, wellness and, economic welfare of its members
  • Generate public and political interest on the vital importance of police work in the everyday life of our community

While collective bargaining and labour contract administration are a priority for the Association, an equally important role for the Association is to promote a healthy and safe work environment for all members. The TPA also advocates at all levels of government to ensure the voice of the membership is heard in public policy debate on policing issues.

Early History

The history of the TPA stretches back to the fall of 1918. In September of that year, the Toronto Police Union was chartered by the Trades and Labour Congress. Facing low wages and seriously sub-standard working conditions, the then members of the Toronto Police Force saw unionization as a means of improving their workplace and gaining respect from the employer. An indication of the labour relations climate of the day is provided by the Police Commission’s response. The Union was swiftly denounced and the Commission refused to recognize its existence. The Union’s Secretary, Gordon Ellis, was summarily fired for allegedly failing to properly perform his duties as a police officer. The Police Commissioner, Magistrate Colonel Dennison, stated as follows:

“We cannot afford to have our Police Force influenced by outside organizations and we are not going to. The oath they took hardly permits this. I could understand this agitation if the men had any grievances”.

Retro police pic

Dennison refused to accept the officers’ position that they were entitled to belong to a trade union, which, at that time, was not prohibited by law. He also refused to recognize their objections to harsh working conditions, dismissing these complaints by saying that the officers were simply victims of “the recent Bolshevik literature which flooded the City.

Not content to ease up on its campaign of resistance, the Commission fired a further twelve officers a short time later. All held executive positions with the Union. Union members were outraged and on December 18, 1918, the Toronto Daily Star reported that the Toronto Police Force would go out on strike at 6:45 a.m. on December 18th, and remains so until such time as the twelve officers were: reinstated to their former positions, the Union was given recognition and that Constable Gordon Ellis was granted a rehearing.

Sixty-seven per cent of officers (335 out of a total of 500) heeded the call to strike action and remained on strike for four days. The matter was settled on the basis of four promises being made to the officers:

  • A Royal Commission would be established to examine the appropriateness of officers belonging to a trade union.
  • The 12 union executive officers would be reinstated.
  • The Union would retain the right to its Charter until the Royal Commission was completed.
  • The Royal Commission would rule on the Constable Ellis case.

The settlement was quickly revealed to be a whitewash. In what may have been the fastest Royal Commission ever, a report was handed down five months later on May 22, 1919. The majority report on the crucial issue of whether officers could unionize was as follows:

“The labour man is a producer – the constable is not. Therefore, the underlying principle upon which labour unions exist, namely formation of a combination which will be in a position by collective action to secure for its members a just share of which their labour assists in producing has no application to a worker who, though he performs valuable services, produces nothing. In our judgment, the suggested advantages that would accrue from affiliation with the Trades and Labour Congress are far outweighed by the evil that would flow from being so affiliated and with the unrest in industrial circles which now prevails, would in our judgment, be most undesirable that the members of the Police Force of Toronto should become members of the unions affiliated with the Trades and Labour Congress. Our conclusion, therefore, is that it is not advisable for the Toronto Police Union to continue to hold its present Charter.”

Interestingly, however, a dissenting opinion was given by the third member of the Commission:

“There is no fundamental difference between an ordinary wage earner and the policeman, both are producers in the economic sense – one produces goods for the community’s use and the other produces services for the community’s use. It is merely a difference in the form of their productivity.”

As a result of the Royal Commission’s findings, the Trades and Labour Congress revoked the Union’s Charter. Police unionism came to a grinding halt in Toronto as it did in many other cities across the country. Indeed, even today in Ontario, police officers are prohibited from joining unions except for the limited purpose of secondary employment.

The Advent of Police Collective Bargaining

Although unable to join unions, police officers and civilians in Ontario enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining since they are able to join and be represented by police associations. This initiative was contained in provincial legislation passed in 1947. Collective bargaining, however, was the culmination of nearly fifteen years of effort.

On October 11, 1933, the Police Association of Ontario (PAO) was formed by a number of Chiefs of Police in an attempt to equalize standards in law enforcement province-wide. In 1934, recommendations were made to the Attorney General that included references to the Victorian working conditions that required officers to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, at near-starvation wages. The PAO worked towards improving working conditions for police officers across the province.

Soon after, associations of police officers began to spring up in various locations throughout the Province, including in Toronto, where on June 28, 1944, the TPA was officially launched. Also in 1944, the PAO, ignoring its roots, became a rank-and-file organization, a province-wide professional association for police officers no longer dominated by Chiefs and Deputies.

By June 1945, 80% of all municipal police officers were members of the PAO. In 1946 the first Police Act was passed into law, followed by legislation passed in 1947 which conferred collective bargaining on the police sector.

The Growth of the TPA

When the Toronto Police Association was formed in 1944 there were thirteen police forces in what is now known as Toronto. The TPA, which represented members working in the inner city of Toronto proper, grew in fits and starts during the late 1940s and 1950s.

Initially, the Association was a loose-knit group of individuals that held meetings at members’ homes, in basements, or wherever space was available. Handwritten records were often kept in cardboard boxes stored in closets or the trunks of cars. Toward the end of the 1950s, however, a huge transformation occurred largely as the result of two events.

First, the City of Toronto was amalgamated for a variety of service-delivery purposes with other surrounding municipalities. One such service was policing. Thus it was that the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto Police Force was formed in 1957 and, with it, the Metropolitan Toronto Police Association (MTPA). The MTPA, with enhanced membership, soon came to be a force to be reckoned with. The second major event was the MTPA’s decision to acquire a full-time president.

The addition of a full-time president brought with it a significant change in how police labour relations were approached by management. Gone were the days when the employer could do what they wanted with impunity. Thus, by the 1960s, the MTPA was in a position to retaliate against the management tactics of the day. One commentator described those tactics as follows:

“During that period, the Commission was composed largely of conservative and authoritarian administrators with over two decades of experience [of being] unable or, more likely, unwilling to accept the Association as a partner in working towards tolerable industrial relations. The employer resorted to various tactics designed to undermine the Association’s effectiveness. These included incredible delays in negotiations and refusal to honour binding arbitration decisions favourable to the Association.”

A 1967 arbitration decision that was extremely favourable to the Association led the way for a future change. President Syd Brown, who also served terms as President of the Police Association of Ontario and the Canadian Police Association, spearheaded the charge. During the period from 1964 to 1971, the salary of a First Class Police Constable increased from $5,904 to $10,750, benefits increased dramatically and working conditions improved.

The TPA’s wins at the bargaining table led the way for other associations and police unions to take similar action. By 1976, police labour unrest had spread across the country. In Sydney, Nova Scotia, officers refused to cross picket lines of a strike with which they sympathized. Metro went on a slowdown over two-man cars. Regina went on an illegal strike to speed up contract negotiations.

The TPA Today

As the size of the police service and the needs of the members have increased, so too have the services offered by the Association. From our humble beginnings with no full-time staff, we now have nine full-time directors, a legal team, accounting professionals, research and investigative specialists and consultants and full-time support staff. Working together, this team ensures that members enjoy salaries, benefits and representation that are second to none.