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Changes sought to complaints system

April 8th, 2014 · No Comments

Consensus emerges for a better Ontario Police Complaints System
By: Brian Burchell

“More transparency, timeliness, independence, and accountability are what’s needed,” says Dr. Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board; these are just some of the recommendations that have emerged from a report on the Future Directions for
the Ontario Police Complaints System. “Our current system is too aloof and makes no effort to be proactive,” said Mukherjee at a day-long expert panel discussion hosted by Scadding Court Community Centre (SCCC) in September.

Also on the panel were Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Professor Jennifer L. Schulenburg, a crime specialist from the University of Waterloo, and Tam Gossen, vice-president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.
The panel was convened to discuss the recommendations that emerged from a forum co-chaired by SCCC in November of 2012, where one hundred and fifty delegates from sixty organizations and nine police services from across Ontario discussed the current
state of the police complaints system. Kevin Lee, the executive director of SCCC, introduced the panel and reminded the panelists and the approximately fifty attendees that SCCC has been a leader in seeking to create a better police complaints system and that “any successful complaints process must be more than just punishing misdeeds and weeding out bad apples, it must be more proactive”.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) is distinct from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU). The SIU conducts an independent investigation where a person is injured or killed while in police custody or while interacting with police. The OIPRD, according to the Police Services Act as amended in 2009, “provides an objective impartial office to receive, manage, and oversee the investigation of public complaints against Ontario police.”

Gossen commented that the forum was happening just blocks from a fatal shooting in July of a teen on a TTC streetcar by police a few weeks before, and said that any meaningful review “must address issues of race in policing, unnecessary use of lethal force, and improved training in crisis intervention starting at police college”. Hall commented that she sees this process as a confirmation that there is “a palpable shift away from complaints-driven systems towards trying to address all prohibited forms of discrimination from policing”, and cautioned against seeing more training as a panacea;
“culture trumps training,” she said.

Schulenburg reported that in her research she spent fifteen hundred hours travelling in patrol cars and that she was surprised to see first-hand “that fifty per cent of calls were not at all black and white, many complicated situations present themselves at once, and making the ‘right’ decision is not always obvious”.

Recommendations from the forum were numerous. They addressed the legal structure of the OIPRD and a need to increase outreach initiatives, especially with regard to awareness of multiple languages and cultures, and vulnerable and marginalized populations, and the need to amend their Rules of Procedure and the Police Services Act to allow for advocating use of the OIPRD in media outlets (this is presently prohibited). Changes were also proposed to the procedures of the OIPRD to allow complainants to understand what to expect. People with complaints about the police can bring those complaints to the police themselves, where they are investigated by the
Professional Standards branch of the police force in question, or to the OIPRD. The forum recommended reducing the number of police-managed investigations but not necessarily with a view to adding to OIPRD investigations. It was advocated that there should be increased opportunities for certified mediators to play a role to bring complaint matters to a more expeditious resolution.

All fifty-seven recommendations have been submitted to the Attorney General’s office for consideration of changes to the legislation and the adjoining regulations. The Toronto
Police Services Board will also consider the recommendations at its November meeting.

A full text of the proposal is available at: http://www.scaddingcourt.org/pdflibrary/2013police-forum-report.pdf

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