Background

The Ontario history of civilian oversight was discussed in my original report. I will not cover that ground in detail again. Through the SIU, the Province seeks to protect the fundamental human rights of all its citizens by ensuring that those charged with enforcing the laws and advancing public safety remain accountable should they violate those rights. The Unit was the policy result of a recommendation of the 1989 Task Force on Race Relations and Policing calling for the creation of an independent agency to investigate police shootings and determine whether charges should be laid. That Task Force was the by-product of several controversial shootings of black men by police. Following this recommendation, the SIU was created in 1990 as part of Ontario's new Police Services Act [2] . Therefore, the SIU is an independent civilian agency which investigates deaths and serious injuries arising out of police work instead of the police investigating themselves. The SIU is an important democratic tool for building the community's trust in the paramilitary organizations we call police.

The following excerpt captures the constant struggle and compromise inherent in civilian oversight systems:

Defining and thereby limiting, the responsibilities of any civilian oversight mechanism is both a fundamental task and a real challenge. The involvement of civil society in police matters rarely emerges through a consensus among police, government leaders, and non-governmental advocates about the value and functions of such an intervention. More often, civilian oversight is the product of struggles and compromises between those who support it and those who resist it, and between competing visions of how this kind of oversight should function. [3]

Viewed in this light, it is not surprising that civilian oversight continued to be the subject of debate throughout the 1990s in Ontario. A 1992 riot in Toronto precipitated the Government's appointment of Stephen Lewis to examine race relations and policing. Following that examination, the Task Force on Race Relations and Policing was reconstituted on Lewis' recommendation. Lewis also recommended the creation of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. Both the Task Force and the Commission made recommendations pertaining to the SIU that were not adopted by the Government. In 1994, the Ministry of the Attorney General created a committee composed of community and police organizations and chaired by Michael Code to revise the then existing procedures governing SIU investigations. As consensus proved impossible on a number of key issues, the draft protocol being discussed never became an instrument of change. In 1996, the Government appointed Roderick McLeod, Q.C. to consider and advise on how the existing system of civilian oversight of police in the Province could be improved given the Government's expressed intention to introduce changes to the Police Services Act. Significant changes to the general area of police complaints followed, but the SIU was not affected. The changes to the general complaint system essentially confined civilian oversight to an appellate review function and remain, I was advised, controversial in many of Ontario's racialized communities. They were not consensus-based policy initiatives.

Finally, in 1997, the Attorney General and Solicitor General appointed me to consult with community and police organizations on ways to improve the relationship between the Special Investigations Unit and the police in the specific areas of:

  1. timely notification of incidents to the SIU by the police;
  2. control of the incident scene pending arrival and investigation by the SIU; and
  3. timely cooperation of police officers involved in the incidents being investigated.

In my report, I emphasized that the purpose of the consultation had been to identify areas of common ground and, through a principled and problem-solving dialogue, to build agreement on needed changes where possible. The 25 wide ranging recommendations demonstrated that the specific issues referred to me were symptomatic of deeper problems. The report represented my estimate of where broad consensus existed. Thereafter, the Attorney General and the Government confirmed my assessment, leading to the implementation of almost all of the 25 recommendations.


Footnotes:

[2] R.S.O. 1990, c. P.15 [hereafter Police Services Act].

[3] E. Phillips & J. Trone, "Building Public Confidence in Police Through Civilian Oversight" (Vera Institute of Justice, September 2002) at 5