TORONTO – Ontario has a new police services act that narrows the scope of mandatory police watchdog investigations, as a bill that dismantled some changes by the previous Liberal government passed Tuesday.
Previously, the Special Investigations Unit investigated circumstances involving police and civilians that resulted in serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault. That could include cases of suicide or situations in which a person died after a medical incident.
Now, the SIU will limit investigations to when police use of force results in serious injury or death, as well as when an officer has shot at a person or if there is a reported sexual assault. Investigations would have to wrap up within 120 days.
Critics have called the law a capitulation to police unions, but Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said it restores balance “to what the Liberals had done in the past.”
“The pendulum had swung too far,” she said Tuesday. “We want to respect our police officers, our front-line officers who risk their lives every day. But we recognize the importance of effective oversight.”
The former Liberal government’s legislation had enhanced the mandates of Ontario’s three police oversight agencies – the SIU, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.
The new Tory law eliminates the Ontario Civilian Police Commission in order to create a single body to handle public complaints about police – the Office of the Independent Police Review Director will become the new Law Enforcement Complaints Agency.
It will receive and screen public complaints about police officers and assign an investigation to a police service or an agency investigator.
Fines for officers who don’t comply with SIU investigations are also drastically lowered, from up to $50,000 and a possible maximum jail term of one year to $5,000 for a first incident and $10,000 for a second.
Police associations have welcomed the law, while the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said the changes gut police oversight.