SOURCE: Ombudsman Ontario

Ombudsman Ontario

October 27, 2016 12:00 ET

Police oversight reform long overdue: Ombudsman

Stronger law and consistent scrutiny needed to bolster public confidence in police

TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - October 27, 2016) - Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today released his submission to the province's Independent Police Oversight Review, calling for new legislation to make police oversight bodies more effective, accountable and transparent.

"Our civilian oversight bodies represent critical checks and balances in our democracy," Mr. Dubé says in his submission to the review headed by Hon. Michael Tulloch. "However, public trust depends on their effectiveness, and transformative change is required to foster confidence in policing in this province."

In the submission, entitled "Oversight Unchanged," Mr. Dubé argues that all three of Ontario's police oversight bodies -- the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) -- should be within the Ombudsman's mandate, as should municipal police services boards. At present, the only one of these bodies within the Ombudsman's jurisdiction is the SIU, which investigates cases where police are involved in incidents of serious injury or death.

"The time has come to jettison the historic anomaly that sets the OIPRD and the OCPC apart and ensure that all three civilian oversight bodies are equally subject to Ombudsman review," Mr. Dubé writes in the submission, noting that his office received 184 complaints about these bodies in the past four years; 138 of those about the OIPRD.

The Ombudsman's office has twice issued reports on its systemic investigations of the SIU -- Oversight Unseen (2008) and Oversight Undermined (2011) -- revealing serious structural and operational concerns. The SIU has since implemented several of the Ombudsman's recommendations to address these issues and perceptions of a pro-police bias. However, the Ministry of the Attorney General failed to act on those calling for the SIU's mandate to be bolstered by clearer, tougher legislation, Mr. Dubé notes.

"Today, the recommendations we made to transform the SIU's legislative authority remain unfulfilled, and the problems we first highlighted in 2008 continue to damage public trust in the SIU," he says in the submission. He reiterates these recommendations, including that the SIU be required by law to release its Director's reports publicly in cases where no charges are laid, that it make public any significant concerns it identifies regarding police practices, and that it be illegal for police not to co-operate with the SIU.

"Transparency should be the default position with regard to police oversight," Mr. Dubé says, citing the recent controversy over the SIU's reluctance to release information about its investigation of the police shooting death of Andrew Loku in Toronto in July 2015.

As well, he recommends that to enhance police accountability at all levels, municipal police services boards should also be included in the Ombudsman's mandate -- which now includes all municipalities and local boards. "There is no explanation or purposive reason for exempting police services boards from my office's authority," the Ombudsman writes, noting that his office received 1,968 complaints about municipal police services in the past four years, and 20 complaints about police services boards.

In total, the Ombudsman's submission makes 16 recommendations; others include that police oversight bodies ensure their staff reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, and that they collect, analyze and share demographic data regarding incidents between civilians and police, to assist in improving police practices.

Mr. Dubé met with Justice Tulloch and senior members of the Independent Police Oversight Review on October 3, 2016, to discuss the Ombudsman's perspective and experience in dealing with police oversight and policing-related matters.

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The Ombudsman's full submission can be found here: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Newsroom/Press-Release/2016/Police-oversight-reform-long-overdue--Ombudsman.aspx?lang=en-CA

Related links - Ombudsman reports on police-related matters:

Oversight Unseen - SIU effectiveness (2008): https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/Oversight-of-police---em-Oversight-Unseen--em-.aspx

Oversight Undermined - SIU support by Ministry of the Attorney General (2011): https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/Oversight-of-police--Oversight-Undermined.aspx

In the Line of Duty - OPP and government response to operational stress injury and suicide among police (2012): https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/In-the-Line-of-Duty.aspx

A Matter of Life and Death - Provincial direction on police de-escalation training (2016): https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/Ontario-direction-to-police-on-de-escalation.aspx

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