Ontario is making sweeping changes to its policing laws, including strengthening oversight of the system and making it possible to suspend officers without pay.

The changes, contained in legislation being introduced today, would include the first update to the Police Services Act in more than 25 years.

Many of the policing updates stem from Appeal Court Justice Michael Tulloch's report on police oversight, released earlier this year, including requiring the Special Investigations Unit, one of the province's police oversight agencies, to report publicly on all of its investigations and release the names of officers charged.

An Inspector General would also be established to oversee police services, with the power to investigate and audit them, and Ontario's ombudsman would be able to investigate complaints against the police oversight bodies.

The new legislation also proposes to allow police chiefs to suspend officers without pay in certain circumstances, a power chiefs have been requesting for a decade.

Marie-France Lalonde

Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde says the changes are the largest transformation to Ontario's policing in more than 25 years. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde says policing and society at large has changed since the legislation was last updated in 1990.

"The changes we're are proposing represent the largest transformation to Ontario's policing and community safety in over 25 years, and will result in even stronger, safer communities," Lalonde said.

The three police oversight agencies that already exist in Ontario — the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) — would get expanded mandates.

The OIPRD will be renamed the Ontario Policing Complaints Agency and would investigate all public complaints against police officers. The OCPC would be renamed the Ontario Policing Discipline Tribunal, dedicated solely to adjudicating police disciplinary matters, so that isn't done by the police services themselves.

As well, the SIU would have to be called when an officer fires at a person and would be able to file more charges on its own. It currently only investigates police-involved death, serious injury and sexual assault allegations.

Ontario is currently the only province in which chiefs can't revoke the pay of suspended officers, who collect millions of dollars each year. Right now, suspended officers have to be paid even when convicted of an offence, unless they are sentenced to prison.

The new legislation proposes to allow suspensions without pay when an officer is in custody or when they are charged with a serious federal offence that wasn't allegedly committed in the course of their duties.

But if an officer wants to fight that, the matter would go to the disciplinary tribunal, which would make the final decision. If the officer is ultimately found not guilty of the charge they faced, they would be reimbursed for the lost pay, Lalonde said.

New pieces of legislation bundled together as Safer Ontario Act

Local police boards would also be created for the Ontario Provincial Police, similar to the structure of municipal police services boards — which will be required to undergo more training, such as on diversity. The new act would also allow First Nations police forces to establish their own police services boards.

An amended Coroners Act would require coroner's inquests when police kill through use of force, another one of Tulloch's key recommendations.

The government's stated approach is to share the burden of community safety with municipalities. They will be required to implement community safety plans, such as identifying a need for more addiction and mental health programs, aiming to prevent problems before police get involved.

The new act will also for the first time clearly define police responsibilities as those that can only be performed by an officer. That will be worked out in regulations, but Lalonde said for example, sworn constables may not be the best people to monitor construction sites.

Two new pieces of legislation would allow police to track a cellphone and search a home in missing persons cases — something they can only do now when a crime is suspected — as well as making accreditation and oversight of forensic labs mandatory.

The new Police Services Act and the other new and updated acts are being bundled together as the Safer Ontario Act.