Ontario Legislature Considers Major Reforms to Police Oversight Bodies

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The Honourable Marie-France Lalonde, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, has introduced Bill 175, the Safer Ontario Act, in the Ontario Legislature. If passed, Bill 175 will amend policing law in Ontario by modifying the powers and responsibilities of the three Ontario police oversight bodies, providing greater disciplinary powers to police chiefs, and creating and funding police service boards across Ontario.

Ontario’s policing legislation has not been updated since 1990. The 417-page bill includes wide ranging amendments to policing law in Ontario. One area to be updated is Ontario’s police oversight bodies; a recent review of these bodies, conducted by Appeal Court Justice Michael H Tulloch, identified several ways in which they could be improved. This Act is, in part, an attempt to realize Justice Tulloch’s recommendations. The proposed legislation will revise the powers and responsibilities of the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC), the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).

The OCPC, currently responsible for ensuring that police services are adequate, effective, fair, and accountable, will become the adjudicating body for police disciplinary hearings if the Bill passes. Under the current system the chief of police appoints the judge and the prosecutor, and both are often current or past members of the police force. The Safer Ontario Act would This system has been criticized for its biased appearance, as was noted in Justice Tulloch’s report (p. 188).

The SIU will be given a wider investigative scope and more power to ensure compliance with its investigations. The SIU investigates the circumstances of serious injuries or deaths resulting from criminal offences committed by police officers. Currently the SIU is only capable of investigating current, on-duty officers; Bill 175 will expand its authority, allowing it to investigate incidents involving off-duty officers, former officers, volunteer members, special constables, and first Nations police members. Additionally, the Bill will impose steep fines for failure to co-operate with SIU investigations.

The OIPRD, which receives, manages, and oversees all public complaints about Ontario police, will begin to move towards existing as an independent oversight body. Currently the OIPRD sends most complaints back to the police service at issue for investigation. This is seen as a barrier to an impartial investigation, as was noted in Justice Tulloch’s report (p. 147). Bill 175 will require the OIRPD to manage all received complaints on its own within five years of the Bill passing

The Bill would also increase the transparency of the SIU, OIPRD, and OCPC by requiring that all three bodies produce publically available reports on their affairs.

The first reading of Bill 175 was this past Thursday November 2. Its second reading is scheduled Monday November 14.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.