Overview of Perspectives

This section is intended as a brief overview of some of the broader perspectives of the parties. It is very general in nature and reflects the previous observation that civilian oversight is the product of struggles and compromises. In a process of this kind, it is almost inevitable that many parties will be encouraged to revisit earlier grievances or emphasize only their current differences. The ease with which criticism is offered arises from the inherent differences between these parties - differences which no set of reforms can completely accommodate. Racialized community groups are concerned about the safety of their members who come in contact with police officers and police groups are concerned about the safety and unfair prosecution of police officers. Real life and death issues are at stake for everyone.

Not all representatives of the individual stakeholder groups adopted the views set out generally below. Indeed, on many issues I will discuss not even the majority of a stakeholder group adopted the views set out. But I would be remiss to ignore various controversial views which are part of the public debate on civilian oversight between and within stakeholder groups. With debate and experience, the position of individuals and groups can change and evolve. Indeed, one of the important aspects of this review has been the frank exchange of perspectives between the parties.

But I would be even more remiss not to emphasize at the outset that all stakeholder groups acknowledged that the reforms under review had achieved or were in the process of achieving their intended purpose and that there had been a vast improvement in the SIU's performance under the guidance of its current Director, Peter Tinsley. The increased public funding has provided the SIU with the resources necessary to carry out its important work in a manner in which police and community groups now have confidence. The regulatory changes have provided an effective regime for SIU investigations reinforcing that essential confidence. In short, real progress has been achieved due to the 1999 reforms.

As important, all police and community representatives framed their proposals as intended to improve the SIU, not to replace it. And all police community representatives expressed an acceptance of the need for civilian oversight in order to maintain public confidence in police services. There was a mirroring awareness in the African-Canadian community and in other racialized communities that the safety and unfair prosecution of police officers are important issues. Policing can be a very dangerous job requiring split second decisions and community groups generally understood why police officers were concerned over the potential for inappropriate second-guessing by the SIU. They also appreciated the adverse impact on a police officer and on his or her family when an officer is the subject of an SIU investigation and, particularly, where the police officer is charged with a criminal offence. In short, the community groups showed the essential capacity to distinguish police community proposals based on these concerns from objections in principle to civilian oversight.

Finally, all participants agreed that civilian oversight of police work involving deaths and serious injuries, no matter how robust, was no substitute for appropriate social and economic policies to support our racialized communities and for effective police training and leadership in a diverse society. When conducting a review of one small, albeit important, component of policing in Ontario, there can be a tendency to forget about the broader underlying contexts which give rise to the many problems confronting police officers and members of the public with whom they come into contact. The SIU cannot be the policy instrument to solve all these problems. Everyone was reminded of this reality when in the midst of this review, the issue of racial profiling was raised by a Toronto Star article which understandably heightened the tension between many of the stakeholder groups. [4] While that issue is relevant to civilian oversight, it is not a matter where the SIU can be asked to give primary leadership. However, the resulting tensions can make the SIU's job more difficult to undertake. [5] Thus, important aspects of the controversy associated with civilian oversight have root causes elsewhere and the solutions lie within stakeholder groups and require changes to other public policies.


Footnotes:

[4] J. Duncanson, "Summit pledges to halt racial profiling" Toronto Star (26 November 2002) A17.

[5] T. Tyler, "Racial profiling exists: Crown" Toronto Star (18 January 2002) A1; P. Small, "Police union sues Star over race-crime series" Toronto Star (18 January 2002) A6.