TPAC
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
 

Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 34, February 21, 2007



February 21 2007

1. Police Complaints Bill 103 at Committee
2. The sorry state of police complaints in British Columbia
3. Closing the information door at police headquarters
4. Police have a hand in appointing judges
5. Colliding police cars



Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 34, February 21, 2007

This bulletin is published monthly by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations in Toronto interested in police policies and procedures, and in making police more accountable to the community they are committed to serving. Our website is http://www.tpac.ca
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In this issue:
1. Police Complaints Bill 103 at Committee
2. The sorry state of police complaints in British Columbia
3. Closing the information door at police headquarters
4. Police have a hand in appointing judges
5. Colliding police cars
6. Subscribe to the Bulletin
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1. Police Complaints Bill 103 at Committee

The Justice Policy Committee of the Ontario Legislature held public hearings on Bill 103 three weeks ago, and then considered a total of 68 amendments by committee members. But of course only the 13 amendments proposed by the Liberals government carried and will go to the full Assembly when it reconvenes in mid-March.

Only one government amendment was substantial; the rest were technical and administrative in nature. The substantial change was to establish (in a new Section 24.1) the ability of the government to appoint regional advisory committees consisting of local people and others. This was a change that TPAC and others had urged the government to make in the hope it would provide some accountability to the Director of Complaints.

But the government made no change to ensure that investigations are independent or that investigators are not entirely consumed by the police culture.

In short, the new system is a marginal improvement on the old system. Its success will depend on both the quality of the person appointed the first director and the extend to which the government provides adequate funding. After the optimism of the LeSage report, the Bill as amended is disappointing. The opportunity of establishing a viable police complaints system comes along only every twenty years or so  its fair to say that the McGuinty government has missed this opportunity when it had every chance to capitalize on it.

2. The sorry state of police complaints in British Columbia

Problems with the police complaints procedure in British Columbia are not new. In 2001 a Committee was appointed by the B.C. Legislature to review the situation, and before it could report it accepted the resignation of the complaints Commissioner, Dan Morrison. (Morrison had refused to look into the death of Frank Paul, an aboriginal left in an ally to die. That case is again in the news, since a witness has stepped forward and has asked again for an investigation.) When the committee reported in August 2002, it recommended a long list of changes to the complaints system.

Two weeks ago, a study by a former judge was released. It shows how weak and unsatisfactory the police complaints system in British Columbia remains. Former Supreme Court judge Josiah Wood was asked by the BC provincial government to review complaints about municipal police forces. His study audited a random sample of 294 complaints from eleven independent municipal police forces.

His general conclusion, that a majority of complaints were investigated in a manner that was reasonable and appropriate, is completely undermined by the cases not investigated well. Judge Wood found that 56 investigations (19 per cent) did not meet the `reasonable and appropriate test. All but four of these 56 complaints concerned serious abuses of police authority: 36 dealt with allegations of excess use of force, 5 with allegations of wrongful arrest, and 8 with allegations of wrongful search or seizure of property. In 20 of the complaints about excessive use of force by police, the judge concluded that the findings, conclusions, or recommendations were unreasonable or inappropriate. (p. C-41.)

He also found that of the 94 complaints of excessive use of force by police, in not a single case did the police investigators conclude that the complaint was substantiated. He said Investigators seemed reluctant or casual about investigations of potentially criminal misconduct by police officers. (p. 37) He found there were 46 cases where files were not forwarded to the Crown for criminal prosecution. He found there were often unexplained delays or a lack of rigour to the investigations done by the police.

One other conclusion: The factor which caused me the greatest concern .. [was] the lack of complete acceptance by the police of the concept of full civilian oversight. (Paragraph 29)

Judge Wood made a number of recommendations. The key problem was that the provincially appointed police complaints commissioner did not have adequate powers or resources.

None of this comes as a surprise to anyone in Ontario, except perhaps to Attorney General Michael Bryant, the person responsible for the weaknesses in Bill 103.

The full report of Judge Wood can be found at the web site of Pivot Legal Society which provides legal help to the residents of Vancouvers Downtown East Side. Pivot created the pressure, along with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, for this latest study to be undertaken. The web site is http://www.pivotlegal.org/pdfs/Report.pdf

3. Closing the information door at police headquarters

Its not easy reporting on what is happening at police headquarters when requests for basic information are denied. David Seglins, the CBC radio reporter on the police beat was before the January meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board as a deputant to outline his frustration.

Seglins has made a point of keeping on top of charges laid against officers under the Police Services Act for misconduct and other offences. In the past, he regularly requested and received lists of those officers charged with details of those charges, and attended hearings which look interesting. A year ago, police staff became much more closed about the information that would be released.

Since Spring 2006, the police service has refused to provide a list of those charged, copies of the charge sheets with information on the allegations, or the monthly schedule of the Police Disciplinary Tribunal. Apparently Staff Superintendent Tony Corrie, who is head of Professional Standards, implemented a new policy restricting the dissemination of this information. Now, reporters can only get a list of the hearings to be held that particular week, and hearings often occur six, eight, or twelve months after charges have been laid. Seglins asked for but was denied a copy of the policy, but its effect is to make sure finding anything out is very difficult.

Whats required now is for the reporter to fill out a request form to get a copy of a charge sheet. This can only be done in person at Police Headquarters  it cannot be done by fax or email. That form is then sent off into the police bureaucracy and when an answer is ready, it must be picked up in person at HQ. Police now refuse to send out any notices of hearings unless the reporter knows the name of the officer charged  which of course is not something the reporter usually knows.

When Seglins filed his letter to the Police Services Board raising this issue last October, the police force treated his letter as a complaint and ran it through the usual complaints process, concluding that the police had followed the letter of the law. (Seglins had advice from the senior lawyer for the police force, George Cowley, that he was asking for public information that the force had a duty to disclose.) It was only after that process was concluded that the matter was allowed to proceed to the Board this January, where Seglins tried to make the point that the problem was the new policy which had been adopted.

The Board expressed its interest in the matter and appointed a subcommittee consisting of most members of the Board to look into this matter and report back. Meanwhile, it is almost impossible to determine which officers have been charged with what kinds of misconduct under the Police Services Act.

These charges are often very revealing. Just before Christmas, Seglins attended and sat through a hearing unannounced. What he stumbled on was the strange case of discipline in 23 Division which revealed the extraordinary `25 and out program, which Seglins then reported on. (See Bulletin 32, http://www.tpac.ca) One can understand police reluctance to allow such cases of internal discipline to become public knowledge. One can understand, but it is hard to have sympathy.

4. Police have a hand in appointing judges.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems to have no trouble using his minority position in Parliament from putting his right-wing law and order agenda in place. Over the Christmas/New Years holiday word came form Ottawa that his government had agreed to appoint police to the panels that recommend the judges to be appointed by the federal government.

The creation of these panels to recommend to the Attorney General those who the government should consider as judicial appointees is a change that was introduced first to Canada by Ian Scott when he was Attorney General of Ontario in the late 1980s. The idea was that a list of those interested in being appointed to a judgeship would be vetted by a committee consisting of senior lawyers and members of the public, and the Attorney General then could only appoint someone whose name was on the approved list. It was thought this was the best way to ensure that appointments were not made only on political grounds, and that each individual considered by the Attorney General was qualified to be a judge.

Harper has not changed that process, but he has now decided to appoint police officers to the panel. Dave Wilson, president of the Toronto Police Association, has been so appointed. One can see perfectly clearly what will happen: any candidate who has been involved in prosecuting or bring actions against police officers will have a very difficult ride. Harper apparently thinks this will show this government is being `tough on crime. Harpers decision has been strongly criticized by lawyers, judges, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, but that has only led him to confirm this course of action.

It is very bizarre to think that the way to be `tough on crime is to give police more power and more influence in society. The United States has given a much greater role to police officers and police forces than has happened in Canada, yet crime levels there are significantly higher than they are in Canada. The `tough on crime approach taken in the States has succeeded in imprisoning higher and higher numbers of people of colour; and crime, particularly gun crime, continues to escalate. Canada should not follow that example.

5. Colliding police cars

According to a February 19 report in the Toronto Star, one third of the 1600 Toronto police vehicles were involved in a collision in 2006. Last year was not unusual: the rate of collisions was higher the previous two years.

The Star learned this information after filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Reporters also reviewed 100 of these accident reports, and concluded that half the accidents were caused by the police, many, the report claims, a result of `inattention.

6. Subscribe to the Bulletin

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Please circulate this Bulletin to friends and colleagues who might share an interest in policing. We appreciate your comments or suggestions for stories which should be sent to j.sewell@on.aibn.com.

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