Police watchdog
‘toothless’: ombudsman

Ontario needs new laws to protect SIU, Marin says

Linda Nguyen, Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 15, 2011


Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin said Wednesday the provincial
government is ‘deliberately undermining’ the police watchdog.
Photo: Linda Nguyen, Postmedia News.


New legislation is urgently needed to protect the role and power of Ontario’s independent police watchdog from being “deliberately undermined” by the provincial government, according to a scathing report issued Wednesday by the Ontario ombudsman.

“It is long past due for the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to be provided with the necessary powers and authority to carry out its mandate effectively, credibly and transparently,” wrote ombudsman Andre Marin in a 63-page report titled Oversight Undermined.

One of the important cases cited in the report involved Ottawa police.

Marin said since it launched the review last spring, his office has discovered a number of “disturbing” examples of officials with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General “actively” working against SIU director Ian Scott in his efforts to fulfil the arm’s-length government agency’s mandate.

According to the report, officials have “systematically” discouraged Scott from going public when police officers refuse to co-operate in investigations, have continued to dismiss concerns about lawyers vetting police notes before they’re submitted, and have prevented the release of an internal annual report in 2008-09 which identified these concerns as “roadblocks.”

“For a bulwark of democracy, the SIU’s legal foundation is embarrassingly flimsy,” said Marin, a former director with the agency.

The SIU was created in 1990 under the Police Services Act as a civilian oversight agency to criminally investigate police incidents involving serious injury, death and allegations of sexual abuse. Its mandate covers 58 police forces across the province.

Over the last two decades, tensions between the SIU and police forces have escalated to an “all-time high” and hopes of the two groups arriving at a “magical consensus” are unrealistic, Marin said.

Among the 16 recommendations in the report, the most urgent include calls for reprimands for officers who refuse to participate in SIU investigations and for a provincewide accepted interpretation of “serious injury” incidents to ensure police forces notify the agency.

In the report, the ombudsman found the SIU had cooperation issues with police officers in more than one-third of the 658 cases it investigated over the past four years.

In March 2009, Scott only found out that Toronto police had struck a man four times with a Taser and fractured a bone in his face when he read about it in the newspaper.

In another instance in August 2010, the SIU cleared an Ottawa police officer of using “potentially lethal force” against a 19-year-old man but expressed concerns over how the incident notes were prepared.

The agency was notified of the injury at 10: 55 p.m., and an hour and a half later, before their arrival, one of the witness officers wrote that a lawyer had “okay(ed) all submissions” of his notes, according to the report.

In response, Ottawa Police Chief Vern White said he felt “considerable displeasure” with the way Scott aired this concern in public.

Other incidents cited in the report involved civilians being bitten by police dogs, people found with septic poisoning in their jail cells and sent to hospital on life support, and prisoners who had their noses and arms broken.

No one at the Police Association of Ontario could be reached for comment Wednesday. SIU director Ian Scott declined an interview.

Go to B.C. is set to repeat Ontario’s mistakes
Go to News and Comment page