Community Groups

The community representatives were troubled by police proposals for change to the SIU in what was styled as a review process. They too accepted that the SIU had improved considerably since the reforms were implemented, but felt that their 1998 concessions in accepting formal recognition of the subject/witness officer distinction and related representational rights for police officers were now being used against them. The PAO wanted to retain those protections while seeking further changes in the name of accountability, but which communities perceived as aimed at undermining the SIU. The OACP was also seen to be resiling from the earlier reforms it had agreed to by complaining that they were now too expensive and by seeking to narrow the SIU's mandate.

Community groups were not sympathetic with concerns about the costs of SIU investigations. They disputed the accuracy of the alleged costs and argued that nothing in the implemented recommendations imposed the costs of legal representation of police officers on police services boards. Instead, in contrast to the OPP, many police services boards had voluntarily assumed such costs or had failed to bargain less costly alternatives. In any event, the community groups felt that the resulting costs were a fair price to pay for broad acceptance of Ontario's independent civilian oversight system. Community groups also contended that the OACP's real concern was one of trying to exert control over the SIU and the cost issue was being used as a pretext. Thus, if further changes to the SIU's jurisdiction were to be made, community groups proposed a widening of its mandate to include all civilian complaints and an expansion of the definition of "serious injury" to include psychological harm.

Community representatives feared that a SIU Code of Conduct and complaint process and any other form of dispute resolution process would be used by already powerful police associations and police services as tools to frustrate SIU investigations. Communities saw no evidence of SIU misconduct and pointed out that investigations had resulted in few charges and only a handful of convictions over the entire history of the SIU. Community groups argued that police officers are subject to a Code of Conduct and SIU review because they carry weapons - a context not applicable to SIU investigators. Community groups stressed that SIU review remained fragile and, indeed, that additional sanctions were required to deal with continuing uncooperative police chiefs and police officers. It was felt that civilian oversight did not require its own oversight mechanism other than what now exists. The SIU advertises its own complaint procedures which are available to the police community. The investigators are accountable to the Director and subject to discipline. The Director is accountable to the Attorney General. Complaints can also be made to the Ombudsman. Community representatives worried about the vulnerability of the SIU and the Director to powerful police interests and saw no justification for police demands in the name of so-called greater accountability. It was pointed out that a police officer who believes he or she has been improperly charged and prosecuted has recourse to the courts in the same way as any member of the public who feels similarly aggrieved.

Some community groups also contended that the SIU lacks transparency in its operations and sufficient racial diversity in its staffing. They noted that police interests, being better funded and organized, have easier access to government and the SIU Director than they do. Indeed, some wondered whether this review was a product of this imbalance in influence. The lack of public access to the Director's investigative reports to the Attorney General and the failure of police services boards to make public the administrative reviews conducted by chiefs of police were also cited as impeding the public's right to know and public confidence. However, the Director's initiative in creating a community resource committee to keep community groups better informed of the general activities of the Unit was appreciated. Although there have been only two meetings to date, community groups acknowledged that the SIU was beginning to redress the need for more transparency.

The community groups saw a value in the Director of the SIU making recommendations on improvements to police practices that could avoid civilian deaths and serious injuries. The Unit's experience was seen as an important source for preventative public policies. However, the Office of the Chief Coroner advocated caution in this area given that the SIU's function is focussed on possible criminal wrongdoing. An expanded role could compromise that important function while encroaching on the role of other institutions better designed to make informed recommendations. As a practical matter, the SIU does alert chiefs of police to areas which an administrative review might consider.

Finally, concern was expressed that the Justice Prosecutions Unit may not be receiving sufficient resources to successfully prosecute the charges laid by the SIU. Reference was made to the paucity of convictions overall and to specific prosecutions where it was believed that convictions should have been obtained. It was argued that more senior Crown prosecutors and more lawyers generally should be assigned to the Unit.

Despite all these concerns, community groups recognized that substantial progress had been made and, by and large, were willing to continue to work within the implemented recommendations. However, should there be any possibility of considering the kinds of wide-ranging reforms requested by certain police groups, then community groups also wanted consideration of a much broader SIU mandate and more effective methods for enforcing the police community's duty to cooperate.