Report on enhancing civilian oversight of Ontario police released

The Independent Police Oversight Review is calling for the province's Special Investigations Unit to report publicly on all its investigations, including providing detailed accounts in those cases where no charges are laid against an officer. Nakita Krucker / File / The Toronto Star via Getty Images

TORONTO – Coroner’s inquests should be mandatory whenever police kill someone by gunning them down or through other use of force, a wide-ranging review of police oversight in Ontario recommended on Thursday.

In addition, the Independent Police Oversight Review called for the Special Investigations Unit, one of the province’s police oversight agencies, to report publicly on all its investigations and include detailed accounts in cases where no charges are laid against an officer.

The measures are among 129 recommendations Appeal Court Justice Michael Tulloch, who headed the review, makes in his 263-page report.

“Police oversight, the police, and the communities they serve are inextricably intertwined,” Tulloch states.

Tulloch spent much of the past year looking at the three civilian agencies charged with overseeing police in Ontario – the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission – with a view to enhancing their efficiency and credibility.

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The best known of the frequently maligned agencies is the SIU, which investigates when police kill someone, cause serious injury, or are accused of sexual assault.

Tulloch recommends legislating when police must call in the SIU as well as officers’ obligations to co-operate with the agency. The SIU should be notified after an officer fires at a person – regardless of the outcome – and the agency should have broader power to lay charges on its own, he says.

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To encourage officers to raise concerns about the conduct of colleagues, the review calls on the government to implement effective whistleblower protections.

The SIU has faced fierce criticism over its use of ex-police officers as investigators, but Tulloch says he is not prepared to suggest a ban on former officers working for the agency or for the OIPRD.

It’s important, he says, to look at individuals and their skills rather than their former jobs, given that non-officers could be biased as well.

“That said, I recommend that the oversight bodies should do more to increase their complement of high quality investigators who do not have a background in policing,” Tulloch states.

The review says the SIU should wrap up investigations within 120 days, and only release the names of subject officers if charges are laid, as generally happens with civilians under investigation. However, mandatory inquests would inevitably ensure the names of officers involved in a death become public.

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To deal with criticism over the SIU’s penchant for secrecy, Tulloch wants the agency to release past reports in those cases where police killed someone as part of a detailed reporting mandate that would allow the public to understand its decisions. In response, the government said it would start doing so, but the director of the SIU, said he needed time to review the report before commenting.

In terms of the OIPRD, Tulloch calls for changes that include giving it the power to investigate officer misconduct without a complaint, and the ability to lay disciplinary charges, currently a task left to an officer’s chief.

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Police should have to co-operate with its investigations, the report states, while the complaints process should be made more accessible to the public.

Among Tulloch’s most far-reaching recommendations are those focused on the police disciplinary process.

Exclusive responsibility for adjudicating discipline arising out of public complaints should be given to a reworked Ontario Civilian Police Commission, currently the least known of the three oversight agencies, Tulloch says. Independent prosecutors and adjudicators selected by the Ministry of the Attorney General should handle the complaints, while appeals of decisions would go to Divisional Court.

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The agency, which would be stripped of its current non-adjudicative functions, should publicize the results of charges, and track officers who are subject of multiple complaints, the report recommends.

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Overall, Tulloch says enabling legislation governing the oversight bodies should be separate from the Police Services Act that governs police.

The review urges greater social and cultural competency for the oversight agencies, which he says should collect demographic data such as gender, age, race religion, ethnicity.

“Data collection offers many benefits,” Tulloch says.

“It supports evidence-based public policy and decision making (and) promotes accountability and transparency.”

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said the recommendations would help the government ensure the oversight system enjoys the confidence of both police and the public.

The Police Association of Ontario said ensuring the complaints process is fair and effective is key to maintaining community safety. Police services boards were pleased with a recommendation calling for mandatory training for board members, but less enthusiastic about the call for selection criteria for appointees.

Of the 129 recommendations, here are some of the key measures suggested:

– Make coroner inquests mandatory when police kill someone through use of force.

– The government should ensure effective whistleblower protections for officers.

– Legislate when police must call in the SIU and officers’ obligations to co-operate with it.

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– Force police to notify the SIU any time an officer fires at a person.

– Give the SIU the power to lay criminal charges on its own.

– Require the SIU to report publicly on all its investigations.

– Give the OIPRD power to investigate officer misconduct without a formal complaint.

– OIPRD should be able to lay disciplinary charges.

– Officers should be required by law to co-operate with OIPRD investigations.

– Police discipline hearings should fall to a reworked Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

– Independent prosecutors and adjudicators should handle public complaints.

– Oversight bodies should develop greater social and cultural competency and collect demographic data.

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