Bodies investigating police can't be trusted, Ontario's Police Oversight Review told in Scarborough
"Each and every one of you will be heard" suggesting changes to oversight, Justice Michael Tulloch promises
Most had never met anyone working for the bodies that investigate Ontario’s police, but almost all people in the room shared one opinion.They didn’t trust these three bodies, including the Special Investigations Unit, to do their jobs fairly.
Justice Michael Tulloch, leading an independent review of police oversight agencies, promised people at Tropicana Community Services in Scarborough - and all Ontarians - that “each and every one of you will be heard” on how to change things.
“I want to know how you would like to see the system improve,” the Ontario Court of Appeal judge told a few dozen members of the public at Tropicana on Thursday, Sept. 15.
There are 16 more public meetings to go, said Tulloch, who hopes the review will educate people on issues involved in overseeing police, “and in so doing ensure public confidence in the system.
“It’s the foundation of our democracy.”
The SIU investigates when members of a local police force cause a civilian death or injury, or when an officer is accused of a sexual assault, while the Office of the Independent Police Review Director rules on complaints from the public on the conduct of police, and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission holds hearings on police disciplinary decisions.
Following concern and protests over the handling of some high-profile shootings by police, the Liberal government in April chose Tulloch as a reviewer.
He can’t comment on individual cases, but the judge will report in March on how these oversight bodies can become more transparent and accountable.
The province asked Tulloch if this can mean releasing investigation reports or the names of officers under investigation, and whether the bodies should collect “demographic statistics” on race, gender and age.
They also want the review to decide whether former police officers should continue to be hired by the SIU to investigate police.
An exchange between Tulloch and one man at Tropicana suggests these questions will be hard to answer in a way that restores trust in the system for everyone.
The SIU was called on to name officers involved in the July 2015 shooting of Andrew Loku, a Toronto resident who was mentally ill and black.
Tulloch said naming the officers “becomes an issue when they’re exonerrated,” when the SIU’s director decides not to lay a charge.
“The officer’s not an accused at this point,” he added. “I think a lot of the public may misunderstand what that issue is all about.”
But Kirk Moss, though later saying he appreciates a legal issue is involved, told Tulloch oversight bodies should consider naming such officers when there is “a sense of injustice” being done, as in the Loku case.
Officers in that case were exonerated. Moss later said people feel if they don’t know the name of officers under investigation, those officers will be free to repeat their behaviour.
Many at Tropicana were from the city’s black community. Several said they weren’t confident the review will lead to changes in oversight they need to see.
Moss thought it would, but suggested changes are overdue. “I think citizens are tired of feeling nervous and traumatized in the presence of police,” he said.
Some said people who might complain about a police officer’s conduct fear retaliation. Experience teaches “reporting it probably won’t get you anywhere,” added a youth worker from Scarborough’s Kingston-Galloway neighbourhood.
Meetings for the review in Toronto include one at the For Youth Initiative on Keele Street on Sept. 22, and another at Metro Hall on John Street on November 10.
Tulloch said people can send written submissions until Nov. 30 to firstname.lastname@example.org
or through http://www.policeoversightreview.ca
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