February 15, 2018 1:50 pm
Updated: February 15, 2018 4:25 pm

Ontario police watchdog stands by commitment to probe deaths involving naloxone

The SIU is an arms-length civilian agency that investigates allegations of serious injury, death, or sexual assault involving Ontario police forces.

THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg
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Ontario’s police watchdog has rejected a request by a group representing chiefs of police to stop investigating cases of serious injury or death involving officers administering the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

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The Special Investigations Unit “fully expects chiefs of police to abide by their legal obligations and immediately notify this office of these types of incidents,” SIU Director Tony Loparco said in a letter to Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police President Bryan Larkin on Thursday.

Loparco’s letter comes just over a month after Larkin wrote to him, saying police forces should not have to inform the SIU of deaths or serious injuries if officers’ only interaction with the person was to administer the opioid-blocking drug.

READ MORE: Ontario to offer naloxone to police, firefighters as opioid-related deaths rise

More than 850 died in Ontario of opioid-related causes in 2016 in what the provincial government has described as an “escalating opioid crisis.”

The Ministry of Health announced in December 2017 that naloxone kits would be offered to all police forces in the province.

But Larkin suggested in his letter that reporting every naloxone case to the SIU could discourage officers from administering the drug in life-threatening situations.

READ MORE: Toronto Fire Services now equipped with naloxone kits for opioid overdose

Loparco dismissed that line of reasoning, saying that it was akin to suggesting a police officer would choose not to get involved in a hostage situation because their actions might be scrutinized by the watchdog.

While not all reports of naloxone-related incidents will lead to full investigations, it is up to the SIU to decide how to handle each case, he said.

READ MORE: Canada on track to see over 4,000 opioid-related deaths in 2017: advisory committee

Loparco urged chiefs of police to “refrain from unilaterally adopting positions that purport to restrict the jurisdiction” of the SIU.

“Doing so risks not merely placing their membership in contravention of the law, but undermines the confidence that the public should have in its policing services,” he added.

The SIU has the jurisdiction to examine all deaths and serious injuries involving police interaction and is regularly notified in situations when officers have administered other forms of emergency medical treatment, Loparco said.

The organization does not track how many reports it has received regarding naloxone-related cases, SIU spokeswoman Monica Hudon said.

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police said it would respond to Loparco “as we deem appropriate,” but that it needed time to review the letter first.

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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