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Police watchdog recommendations miss mark, critic says

A review of Ontario's three police oversight bodies doesn't go far enough, according to journalist and activist Desmond Cole.

In particular, Cole is frustrated by the lack of commitment to release the names of officers under investigation by the Special Investigations Unit, which probes all cases of serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault involving police in Ontario.

"There is still this idea of police exceptionalism, that police are different from every other person in society and can't be treated the same way when they're seen to hurt somebody," Cole told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday.

'It's our right to know'

"It's our right to know these things. We're not saying the person is guilty. We're saying you're a public servant and we have the right to know. The police are the most public servants that I can think of, and the idea that you can kill someone in the province of Ontario and remain anonymous is unacceptable, even if you're a police officer."

Cole also disagrees with the recommendation that at least half of the non-forensic investigators on any given SIU investigation have no police background. He says that doesn't go far enough.

"When are we going to investigate the police independently of people who have already been police officers?"

The report also recommends investigations be done any time an officer fires a gun at someone, but Cole said that requirement should include conductive energy weapons as well.

Review makes 129 recommendations

Justice Michael Tulloch released his government-commissioned review of the three bodies — the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Officer of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) Thursday.

His report included 129 recommendations to make police watchdogs more transparent and accountable, suggesting the SIU should:

  • Release director's reports of all cases where officers are cleared of wrongdoing, including all past reports involving death (with permission of the victim's family). This should include a clear narrative of what happened, as well as a summary of witness statements and any photo, audio or video evidence collected.
  • Ensure at least half of the non-forensic investigators on any given investigation have no police background.
  • Recruit more civilian investigators and give them anti-bias training.
  • Investigate any time an officer fires a weapon at someone.
  • Better define the term serious injury to include any instance where someone is taken to the hospital, or suffers injuries resulting from sexual assault.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi wouldn't commit Friday to enacting all 129 recommendations, but did say the report will be utilized.

"My commitment to Ontarians is that this report will not sit on a shelf collecting dust. We will make Ontario a leader in police oversight," he told Ottawa Morning.

"Right now, I think that where the doubt comes in that Desmond often talks about is ... where people just don't feel sure about the investigative process. There are a lot of recommendations in here that strengthen that process."

Yasir Naqvi Ottawa Morning Ontario police oversight review April 7 2017

'My commitment to Ontarians is that this report will not sit on a shelf collecting dust,' Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi promised Friday. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

Ottawa snapshot

Since 1990, when the SIU was created, a total of 15 Ottawa police officers have been charged with criminal offences.

From 2011 to 2015, as an example, the SIU looked into the conduct of Ottawa Police Service officers a total of 72 times. Four of those 72 cases resulted in criminal charges being laid.

The charges failed to stick in all four cases.

Here are some of the more recent outcomes for Ottawa Police Service officers charged by the SIU:

"In recent times, 97 per cent of the investigations that the SIU carries out end up with no charge against the police officers. That is not my idea of accountability and it means that a lot of police in this province are getting away with harming members of the public. So at this time, my faith in that body and in other police oversight bodies that were part of this review is very low," Cole said Friday.

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