Greater oversight of police on the way
By Chad Ingram
Published Nov. 9, 2017
Stronger oversight of police officers and stricter penalties for officers who fail to comply with probes are some of the changes being proposed in the Safer Ontario Act, a bill tabled by the government in Queen’s Park on Nov. 2.
“The bill is a comprehensive community safety legislative package that, if passed, would represent the largest policing and public safety transformation in a generation,” reads a press release from the Ministry of the Attorney General.
The proposals in the bill would be the most significant changes to the Ontario Police Services Act since 1990.
Among them are increased oversight for the three investigative bodies that oversee police activity in Ontario. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which looks at cases of deaths of injuries caused by police officers, would be granted increased powers, including the ability to investigate former police officers and special constables, such as those who patrol university campuses. Officers who fail to co-operate with investigations could face a year in jail, fines of up to $50,000, or both.
The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) currently refers any complaint about a police service back to the police service about which the complaint was made, a practice that has raised some skepticism about the efficiency of the process. Under proposed changes, within five years of the passage of the legislation, that would no longer be the case.
The office would be renamed the Ontario Police Complaints Agency.
In addition, the Ontario ombudsman would be given the power to investigate complaints about police oversight agencies.
The legislation would also grant police chiefs the ability to suspend officers without pay, something that is currently not permitted under the Police Services Act, and something which police chiefs throughout the province have been requesting for years.
The ability to suspend officers without pay would be relegated to certain situations, such as accusations of criminal activity.
The bill also seeks to more clearly definite police responsibilities and to deliver standardized training of police officers throughout the province.
“For the first time, duties that can only be performed by a sworn police officer will be defined in regulation,” the release reads. “The new act would ensure police education, training, and standards are consistent across the province, and would create a Public Safety Institute as a centre of excellence to inform the delivery of police services, support evidence-based decision making, and conduct leading edge research.”
The legislation also calls for greater collaboration with local governments, “where municipalities would have a larger role in defining and addressing local needs,” the release reads. “By focusing on local needs, vulnerable populations can receive the help they need, when and where they need it most – by the providers best suited to help them. Municipalities will be mandated to work with police services and local service providers in health care, social services and education to develop community safety and well-being plans that proactively address community safety concerns.”
Many of the recommendations in the bill come from the Independent Police Oversight Review conducted by Justice Michael Tulloch, which was released in April of 2017.