Review of civilian oversight of police positive, system in need of change

Sep 27, 2016 By Matthew Friedberg
A review into civilian oversight of police in Ontario is long overdue because the system is “problematic” and in need of vast change, says Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg.

“I think it’s great that the system is being reviewed because there is room for a huge amount of improvement,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“The system as it is currently set up is not geared toward real transparency.”

The review, which includes a series of public consultations, is being led by Justice Michael Tulloch and has a broad mandate to recommend ways to enhance accountability and transparency, reports the Canadian Press. Tulloch is to report to the attorney general by March 31, 2017. The review panel has already met privately with interested parties, including police representatives and families of victims, and is also asking for written input, says the article.

In Ontario, three different bodies are responsible for civilian oversight of police. Those include: the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), established in 1990 and probes cases of death, serious injury or sexual assault involving officers; the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), established in 2007 and deals with public complaints about police; and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, also set up in 2007 and adjudicates police discipline disputes and budget quarrels between police services and municipalities, reports the wire service.

The SIU in particular has often been criticized as being too secretive and lacking “the teeth or will to deal with officers who resort to violence then thwart a proper investigation,” says the article.

And at the OIPRD, it’s difficult to pass the threshold to get a hearing, Friedberg says.

“There are obstacles in civilians’ way to actually regulate and question police conduct,” he says. “It is not an easy process to get through.”

Friedberg says one of the biggest obstacles is that complaints about police are still investigated by police.

“When you complain to the OIPRD, which is where the lion’s share of these complaints go to, they are oftentimes assigned to other police officers to investigate, even in the same force, even within their own division,” he says. "How truly objective can this investigation be?”

Friedberg says the bottom line is that police have extraordinary powers and there needs to be proper oversight of those powers.

“That’s the issue here,” he says. “With great power comes responsibility and oversight.”