Ontario policing reforms will mean officers can be suspended without pay

TheStar.com – News/GTA – The Ontario government is calling its announcement Thursday “the largest transformation to Ontario’s policing and community safety in over 25 years.”
Nov. 2, 2017.   By

The creation of an inspector general to monitor police services, penalties for officers who fail to co-operate in police watchdog investigations, and the ability to suspend officers without pay were part of an announcement Thursday to revamp policing and the police oversight system in Ontario.

“The changes we are proposing today represent the largest transformation to Ontario’s policing and community safety in over 25 years,” said Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde, along with Attorney General Yasir Naqvi.

The ability for chiefs to suspend officers without pay has been called upon for years, including by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. Ontario is currently the sole province in Canada that requires suspension with pay except when an officer is sentenced to jail time.

Circumstances in which an officer can now be suspended without pay in Ontario include when the officer is in custody or the subject of bail or other court conditions that prevent them from performing their usual police duties, as well as if charged with a serious offence that was not committed in the course of their duties.

Changes to police oversight announced by the government Thursday include establishing penalties for officers who don’t comply with oversight investigations, as well as setting timelines for investigations and reporting the results to the public.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the arm’s-length agency that probes police-involved death, serious injury and allegations of sexual assault, has often faced criticism for taking too long with its investigations. Naqvi also said Thursday the SIU, which falls under the jurisdiction of the attorney general, would be rebranded as the Ontario Special Investigations Unit.

Other proposed changes include:

Greater SIU powers of investigation: The changes give greater strength to the SIU, expanding its powers to launch investigations not only into the behaviour of on-duty current police officers, but former officers, special constables (such as those working for universities) and in certain circumstances, off-duty officers and members of First Nations police services

Expanded SIU powers to lay criminal charges: The watchdog would be able to lay any criminal charge uncovered during an investigation — regardless of whether it is directly related to the death, serious injury or allegation of sexual assault that triggered the probe.

Independent police complaints province-wide by 2022: Within the next five years the Ontario Policing Complaints Agency (formerly the Office of the Independent Police Review Director) would no longer refer its complaints back to police service where the complaint originated for an investigation. The agency would instead investigate almost all of these complaints itself.

Penalties for non-cooperation: Both the SIU and the newly named Ontario Policing Complaints Agency would also be able to impose penalties for officers who fail to co-operate with its investigations. A non-cooperative officer could face a $50,000 fine, a year in jail, or both.

Limiting police officers working for watchdogs: The legislation would give the government the ability to put a cap on the number of former police officers who could work within an investigative team on the SIU or who could be employed by the newly named OPCA.

The new office of the inspector general would have the power to oversee and monitor police services and police services boards, the government said Thursday, and would be able to review complaints, including against board members and chiefs of police.

“I want that person’s name immediately, because I will be the first one reaching out to that person,” Joanne MacIsaac, whose brother Michael was shot and killed by Durham police in 2013, told the Star.

Many of the oversight recommendations were in response to an independent review conducted by Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch.

Last spring, the judge recommended major changes to Ontario’s police watchdogs, including the SIU, which probes deaths, serious injuries and allegations of sexual assault involving police.

The same day Tulloch released his comprehensive report to improve police oversight, Naqvi announced action on some of the key recommendations, including more transparency and the collection of race-based statistics by the SIU and the two other watchdogs.

Naqvi reiterated the government’s commitment Thursday to comply with another key Tulloch recommendation, saying the government is working toward posting previously secret SIU investigation reports.

Many of the policing changes will form part of the Safer Ontario Act, which replaces the current Police Services Act. Changes to police oversight will be included in the new Police Oversight Act and Ontario Policing Discipline Tribunal Act.

Currently, police oversight forms just a small part of the Police Services Act. Another Tulloch recommendation was that oversight should be in a separate piece of legislation.

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/11/02/province-expected-to-unveil-changes-to-policing-laws-thursday.html

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