A Toronto Police Service superintendent entered a lounge with a licensed fully-stocked bar in police headquarters about three hours before he crashed his service-issued SUV into another vehicle in Pickering, Ont., and was charged with impaired driving in January 2022, CBC News has learned.
Supt. Riyaz Hussein, who headed the service’s disciplinary tribunal, pleaded guilty to driving with a blood alcohol level over 80 mg per 100 ml of blood in connection to the crash in October, and will appear before the Toronto police disciplinary tribunal on related Police Service Act charges today.
It’s unclear how long Hussein was in the Executive Officers Lounge and whether or not he drank in the room. But his presence there leading up to the crash on Highway 401 has police stakeholders questioning the appropriateness of a bar within a public institution like police headquarters and potential liability issues.
“That incident has made me very concerned,” said Alok Mukherjee, former chair of the Toronto Police Service Board from 2005 to 2015.
“That raises questions about supervision and control of the room, but it raises a bigger question. Whatever may have been the culture 50 years ago — even 25 years ago — of having fully-stocked bars on premises … whether that is acceptable today?”
CBC News obtained a security pass scan log for the lounge, which is only accessible to senior officers, through a Freedom of Information request. On Jan. 13, 2022, the record shows Hussein’s pass scanned into the lounge at 4:31 p.m. Passes aren’t needed to exit the lounge.
By 7:39 p.m. that evening Hussein had already crashed into a delivery truck in a Toronto suburb and been assessed by paramedics, when an OPP officer demanded a roadside breath test which Hussein failed, according to the notice of hearing in Hussein’s disciplinary proceeding.
The crash happened in the eastbound lanes of Highway 401 just west of Liverpool Road in Pickering, roughly 38 kilometres from police headquarters. Police previously said Hussein returned to duty in February 2022 and was placed on administrative duties.
CBC News contacted Hussein and his lawyer for comment, but did not receive a response.
“I’m absolutely astounded they’ve got a bar in this government building,” said John Sewell, coordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.
“This is a public service. I’m not aware of any other public service that has a bar in it — and yet the police do.”
Police say liquor licence used infrequently
Toronto police denied a CBC News request for an interview with police chief Myron Demkiw about the licensed bar and Hussein’s presence in the lounge before his impaired driving crash.
Instead, in an email statement, a spokesperson said the service can’t comment on matters that are currently before the disciplinary tribunal. But added, the lounge has maintained a liquor licence for many years and is subject to the Ontario Liquor Licence Act which requires alcoholic beverages be served by a Smart Serve certified person.
“The licence is used infrequently, and largely for formal functions, including retirements, or when hosting dignitaries,” said Stephanie Sayer. “The space itself is mostly used for meetings or a quiet place to work.”
In its own statement, the Toronto Police Service Board said it was not involved in the establishment of the Executive Officers Lounge and isn’t involved in administering it in any capacity.
“The Board makes clear that impaired driving – whether by service members or by members of the public — regardless of the manner and means of impairment, and where such impairment may have taken place — is absolutely prohibited, contrary to law, and contrary to the duties and obligations of a police officer,” said Ann Morgan, interim chair.
The Executive Officers Lounge was first issued a liquor licence at the 40 College Street headquarters in 1989, according to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO).
Former board chair describes fully-stocked bar
Mukherjee says he attended the room numerous times when he was TPSB board chair for events like retirements, meetings with community members, and dinners. But the bar was rarely used when he was there.
“They have a committee that manages that room,” he said. “One of them, or somebody designated — obviously a member of the police service — serves or attends the bar, manages the bar, when it is being used.”
The Executive Officer Lounge Committee oversees the day-to-day administration of the lounge, according to the Toronto Police Service Board. And several police sources told CBC News the service’s Senior Officers’ Organization — the union which represents senior officers — pays for the alcohol to stock the bar.
Mukherjee says the lounge can fit up to 50 people and has lots of windows, a table, lounge chairs and the fully-stocked bar on one side.
While he was board chair Mukherjee says he never heard about incidents where presence in the lounge was connected to an accident or incident afterwards, but says there were informal conversations about whether the bar should continue.
“I can understand large public buildings having a [liquor] licensed space. I make a distinction between having a licensed space and having a fully-stocked bar,” said Mukherjee.
“We need to discuss whether it is appropriate in this day and age when there’s so much concern about impaired driving.”
Sewell, who has written three books on policing in Canada, believes the service needs to get rid of the bar right away.
“If they want to drink there’s lots of bars in downtown Toronto,” he said. “But to actually have it in the workplace so that they can load up before they go home? Sorry, this is wrong.”
CBC News obtained a list of all liquor licenses in Ontario which fell into the same “social club” category as the Toronto police licence through a Freedom of Information request to the AGCO.
The RCMP was the only other police service on the list to maintain liquor licenses within its headquarters in Ontario. Both the RCMP’s national headquarters in Ottawa and its “O” Division headquarters in London, Ont., have had liquor licenses since at least 2016.
The RCMP didn’t respond to questions about how its liquor licenses are used before deadline for this story.
Risk of police service liability
In addition to the optics of a bar at police headquarters, Mukherjee says there are also liability concerns to consider if a direct connection is made between it and a serious incident.
“Had there been serious injury, or loss of life, or damage to somebody’s vehicle and there was a lawsuit arising from it a very critical question arises,” he said.
“What is the liability on the part of the management, the board, the chief of police? So I think there are good reasons to rethink — very, very seriously — whether the bar on the premises should continue.”
Personal injury lawyer Nainesh Kotak told CBC News the potential liability for the senior officers’ bar is similar to what any private bar or restaurant might face through commercial host liability when a patron is involved in an impaired driving crash.
“The only difference that I would see is that additional employer-employee relationship,” Kotak said. “Where the employer needs to take a duty of care to prevent undue harm to its employees who may well be the senior officers who consume alcohol.”
Kotak says personal injury lawyers usually include any party who could be responsible for harm in a lawsuit.
“That would be the offending driver who may have been intoxicated, and you would likely sue the establishments where the person was drinking,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean that they’ll be liable, but certainly the establishment needs to have some protocol in place to recognize if somebody is intoxicated and to take reasonable measures to ensure that they don’t drive.”
After pleading guilty to driving with a blood alcohol level over 80 in October, Hussein was sentenced to a one-year driving prohibition and fined $1,560. Additional charges of careless driving and having open liquor in a vehicle were withdrawn.
The superintendent is also facing two discreditable conduct charges in connection to the crash.
Hussein will appear before the disciplinary tribunal he used to lead on those charges today.