‘Within their rights’: Why Ontario officers can dodge police watchdog in investigations

Click to play video: 'Wrong-way 401 crash: 2 officers haven’t agreed to interviews in SIU investigation'
Wrong-way 401 crash: 2 officers haven’t agreed to interviews in SIU investigation
WATCH ABOVE: Two officers have not agreed to interviews in an investigation into a crash on Highway 401 that killed four people and involved a wrong-way pursuit, the province's police watchdog says. Sean O'Shea reports – Jun 12, 2024

Ontario’s police watchdog provided an update Wednesday on its investigation into a fatal wrong-way pursuit on Highway 401, noting that the two officers under investigation have not agreed to be interviewed.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) said it has designated two subject officers in the case regarding the April 29 crash in Whitby that killed four, including an infant and their grandparents.

Neither officer has agreed to be interviewed or submit their notes, the watchdog said.

Nineteen witness officials were designated and interviews with them are ongoing, the SIU said.

Global News crime analyst and former Toronto police officer Hank Idsinga said the decision of the subject officers to not consent to an interview with the SIU “isn’t unusual, especially in a very, very serious incident like this.”

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“They’re all within their rights,” Idsinga said.

“Nobody has to speak to an investigator in this country if they don’t want to speak to an investigator.”

Click to play video: '‘Someone’s going to get hurt’: Police recordings offer new insight into wrong-way chase on Ontario’s Highway 401'
‘Someone’s going to get hurt’: Police recordings offer new insight into wrong-way chase on Ontario’s Highway 401

Idsinga said subject officers are required to complete their notes and if there is an agreement with counsel and the SIU, then the notes could be turned over to the SIU, but they don’t have to consent to an interview.

When it comes to the witness officers, however, Idsinga said those officers have to cooperate and provide statements and their notes to the SIU.

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In an email to Global News, the watchdog said officers who are the subject of an investigation “are invited, but not compelled to present themselves for an interview with the SIU and they do not have to submit their notes to the SIU.”

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“Once he/she becomes the focus of an investigation and therefore under criminal jeopardy, the subject official is granted the same rights as any citizen under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect himself/herself from self-incrimination,” the email said.

There have been 36 civilian witnesses identified and interviewed in the case.

The SIU said it has more than 100 videos as part of its investigation, which have been obtained from in-car cameras, body cams, civilian recordings, Ministry of Transportation footage and drone footage.

“This is pretty big. And this is pretty big for the SIU,” Idsinga said of the case.

He also noted that the SIU normally doesn’t have as many resources as a police service would.

Seven investigators, two forensic investigators and one collision reconstructionist are looking into the incident.

Click to play video: 'Durham police to fast-track suspect pursuit training following fatal 401 crash'
Durham police to fast-track suspect pursuit training following fatal 401 crash

Idsinga said “it’s a lot of work for those investigators.”

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He noted that it is “very, very labour intensive” to collect all of the videos in the investigation and time consuming to go through all of it.

“That takes up an awful lot of time, on top of everything else that they have to do: lots of interviews and lots of reviewing of reports and notes and 911 calls and dispatch calls and the collision reconstruction — it’s a big investigation,” he said.

By law, the SIU must complete its investigation within 120 days of the incident.

A 60-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman, who were visiting from India, and their three-month-old grandson died in the crash that involved a van being chased by police while going the wrong way on Highway 401.

The baby’s parents, who live in Ajax, Ont., survived.

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The SIU has said Durham police were chasing a cargo van that had been identified as a vehicle of interest in an alleged liquor store robbery in Clarington, Ont., with the pursuit shifting to Highway 401.

The driver of the van, who was also killed in the crash, was identified as a 21-year-old man, while a 38-year-old male passenger suffered serious injuries. He remains in hospital.

Another person who was seriously injured — a 27-year-old woman — was released from hospital.

The incident prompted questions about the decision to pursue the van in the wrong direction on the highway.

After the crash, police and emergency dispatchers in Durham were instructed to take a course on pursuits within two months.

The SIU is an independent agency that investigates incidents involving police that have resulted in death, serious injury or alleged sexual assault.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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