Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 28

April 27th 2006

1. The new Police Complaints Process
2. Small Claims Court Justice
3. Fencing them in
4. Updates: the Wyann Ruso and Jeffrey Reodica cases
5. Reviewing Civilian Oversight

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 28, April 27, 2006

This bulletin is published monthly by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations in Toronto interested in police policies and procedures, and in making police more accountable to the community they are committed to serving. Our website is http://www.tpac.ca
In this issue:
1. The new Police Complaints Process
2. Small Claims Court Justice
3. Fencing them in
4. Updates: the Wyann Ruso and Jeffrey Reodica cases
5. Reviewing Civilian Oversight
6. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. The new Police Complaints Process

Bill 103, introduced into the Ontario Legislature on April 19, establishes a new police complaints process, generally as recommended by Mr. Justice Lesage twelve months ago.

The position of an independent police review director is established. The director will, with his/her staff, manage complaints against the police, either referring them to a police force for investigation (with report back to the director and monitoring) or undertaking the investigation him/herself. The director must be a civilian. The Bill contemplates the establishment of regional offices, although there is no reference (as Lesage had suggested) to reaching out to Aboriginal communities. The director is also responsible for educating the public on the complaints mechanism, and for assisting members of the public in filing complaints.

Anyone may file a complaint, including third parties and relatives and friends of those involved in an incident. Systemic behaviour and police policy are valid items for complaint. Complaints should be filed within six months of the incident occurring, although complaints filed after six months, in the discretion of the director, might be accepted.

Complaints will be categorized by the director as relating to policy, service or conduct of an officer. Complaints about policy or service must be reviewed by the chief, but there is no requirement for full investigation. Complaints about conduct are either investigated by the director or referred by the director to the chief who must ensure the complaint is investigated. The director must be informed of the disposition of all complaints and investigations. Appeals on questions of policy and service are to the appropriate local police services board. Appeals on questions of conduct are to the director, and a hearing may be held.

The Bill makes it clear that attempts will be made to find ways to resolve complaints, and where that is not possible then a hearing can be held. The burden of proof at the hearing is clear and convincing evidence. The levels of proof at earlier stages are much more vague  the words used are unsubstantiated and believes on reasonable grounds.

The director may not hire police officers as investigators, although there is no restriction on former police officers serving as investigators. It is an offence to harass complainants; misconduct is defined to include political activity.

The Bill does not guarantee that an independent investigation will be done. In fact it leaves the assumption that most complaints will be investigated by the police, as they now are. Given that speed and first access are important to accurate investigations, this is a reason for concern. It is of little assistance to know that after the police have completed their investigation  perhaps taking two months  the police report will be submitted to the director who can then wonder whether the investigation has been done in a satisfactory manner. One fears that the lack of a guarantee of an independent investigation will mean that the Bill is not much of a step forward.

There are a number of questions which the Bill does not resolve, issues that will either be dealt with in regulations or in the discretion of whoever is appointed director. The following are key issues still to be addressed:
* The establishment of local advisory boards (as proposed by Lesage).
* The instances in which a complaints filed more than six months after an incident will be considered legitimate.
* The percentage of investigators working for the director who are former police officers. (Lesage had suggested a maximum of 50 per cent should be former officers.)
* The manner in which investigations are undertaken, and the extent to which mediation is a key objective

Ministry staff have said that it is hoped that the director will be hired to help draft regulations and procedures, but that cant happen until the Bill is passed and proclaimed.

The government hopes that the Bill can be given Second Reading and be sent to Committee so that hearings can be held before the Fall, and that Third Reading happens before the end of the year. If this is the timetable, one could expect the new process to be open for business twelve months from now.

The Attorney General, Michael Bryant, has said wants to secure annual funding of $6 million for the new process, with an additional $1 million for first year start-up. (In comparison, the Special Investigations Unit has an annual budget of $5 million.)

The Bill can be found on the Legislatures web site, http://www.ontla.on.ca/documents/Bills/38_Parliament/session2/b103.pdf .

2. Small Claims Court Justice

A group of law students, legal workers, and social justice activists have recently established The Police Accountability Small Claims Collective. Its goal is to support people who have experienced police misconduct by helping them launch small court claims against the police. The group hopes to focus on the worst cases of police abuse, and cases where there is disregard for basic legal rights in instances like strip searches, sexual assault, violence and racial profiling.

The group notes the Small Claims Court has a limitation period of two years so that incidents that occurred more than two years ago will not be within the ambit of the court. As well the Court is limited to claims of $10,000 or less.

To contact the Collective, telephone Magaly San Martin at the Parkdale Community Legal Services, 416-531-2411 ext.248 or email her at sanmartin@lao.on.ca .

3. Fencing Them In

In the last few weeks fences have been erected around many police stations in Toronto. Theses fences are a standard five feet high, made of cedar. They generally block the stations from the street and ensure that the lands around the station are kept out of the public sphere. Toronto Star columnist Royson James has referred to the fences as reflecting a Fort Apache mentality.

The matter of fencing has not appeared on recent a Toronto Police Services Board agenda, although it was hidden away within the budget where it wasnt seen and therefore never debated publicly. The budget allocation for these fences is $3.7 million. Officers have apparently claimed that fences are required so that members of the public, perhaps with criminal intent, do not spy upon the officers in their stations. The fences are a clear signal that most members of the police force want their stations hived off from the activity of the city. This is a pretty sad commentary on how police see their role in the city.

Meanwhile, we continue to await implementation of the decision made by the chief and the Board in 2005 to identify all officers with a name badge. The cost of that small change is estimated at $127,000. Why is it so easy for the police to find money to wall themselves off from the community, and so difficult to build bridges to the community?

The Police Services Board, obviously unhappy with the criticism, has put the building of more fences on hold until the Chief reports to the Boards May meeting.

4. Update: the Wyann Ruso and Jeffrey Reodica cases

As reported in the last Bulletin, at the March Police Services Board meeting a request was made that the police release the internal review about what went wrong in the police organization that led to Wyann Ruso being severely injured after alerting the police to threatened harm from her husband. Its important to see that review since it might impact on how police deal with domestic assault cases.

The Board decided to be briefed by staff and then report to the April Board meeting. Perhaps the Board has been briefed as it had asked  but no report on the matter has been made available to the public. Perhaps domestic assault isnt the kind of priority among Toronto police that they say it is.

Almost two years ago, teenager Jeffrey Reodica was killed on a Scarborough street by police. The inquest into Jeffreys death will begin on Monday May 8, 10 am at 25 Grovesnor Street in the Coroners Court. On Saturday May 6 there will be a peace march to the Courts, beginning at 1 pm, Nathan Phillips Square. For further information, go to http://www.reodica.com/jeff

5. Reviewing Civilian Oversight

On Saturday May 13, the Toronto Police Services Board is holding a one-day seminar at Toronto City Hall to mark the 50th anniversary of the first meeting of the Metropolitan Board of Police Commissioners. The seminar requires registration by faxing your name, organization, address, telephone number and email address to the Police Services Board at 416-808-8082.

Speeches scheduled are by Andre Marin, Ombudsman of Ontario and former Head of the Special Investigations Unit, talking on Civilian Oversight of Policing; former reporter Jocko Thomas, speaking on Magistrate Bicks Vision- A Tribute; and Michael Kempa, speaking on Models of Civilian Oversight. Panels include Evolution of Civilian Oversight in Toronto with panelists Akua Benjamin, Paul Godfrey, Pam McConnell and Mark Wainberg; Civilian Oversight in Todays Toronto with Noreen Alleyne, criminologist Anthony Doob and former chair Allan Heisey. There will be also a dialogue between Former Chair Susan Eng and current Chief Bill Blair. A banquet will follow on the evening on May 15 at the Liberty Grand, Exhibition Place, at a cost of $100 per ticket.

6. Subscribe to the Bulletin

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Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
E-mail: info@tpac.ca