Ottawa police union calls for broad disciplinary reform before cutting pay for suspended officers

The head of a large Ontario police union says there need to be broader changes to the province's police discipline system before more officers could be suspended without pay.

Union head want chiefs, SIU to hand power to independent bodies

Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, says he understands the politics behind the push to suspend more officers without pay. But he says if that's going to happen, other aspects of the province's police discipline system have to change first. (CBC)

The head of the union representing Ottawa police officers is calling on the province to make broad changes to the police disciplinary system before it implements new rules aimed at lowering the number of officers currently suspended with pay.

Under Ontario's Police Services Act suspended officers continues to receive pay unless they're imprisoned.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said earlier this week that Community Safety and Protective Services Minister Yasir Naqvi is working with police departments across the province to review that part of the law.

Matt Skof, the president of the Ottawa Police Association, said in an interview Friday the system in Ontario is better than in most provinces, where officers can be suspended without pay under a broad variety of circumstances.

"Our system is actually much more efficient and proper and creates more balance in policing in Ontario compared to our counterparts across the country," he said.

"Yes, on the default side you may have people upset that [suspended officers are] paid but at least there's still the presumption of innocence ... it creates a lot more stability in policing." 

More independence

Skof sits on a committee with other police union representatives in Ontario that's focused on broader changes to the disciplinary system.

Skof said he'd like to see police chiefs and the province's Special Investigations Unit, which can lay criminal charges against Ontario police officers, hand over their disciplinary powers to independent bodies.

"This goes back to the crux of the Police Services Act, it's not an independent labour body, it's prejudicial in that the chief owns it," he said.

"Now they want to have this ability to affect a life, a livelihood and remove this presumption of innocence. They've never expressed any desire to also change what is a completely non-independent system." 

Skof said the issue is especially important for smaller police unions that may not have the resources to challenge a decision to suspend an officer without pay.

Overdue review

There are currently at least 50 police officers across Ontario who have been suspended with pay because of alleged misconduct.

Ontario Community Safety and Protective Services Minister Yasir Naqvi says the Police Services Act hasn't been reviewed in 25 years. (CBC)

Naqvi said in an interview Friday the government is looking at changes to policing in Ontario because the act hasn't been reviewed in 25 years.

"How do we make sure that the bond between the police and our communities becomes stronger, that the respect and trust that exists between police and the communities even grows deeper?" he said. "I think this is an issue that's part of that conversation and that's why we're seriously looking at it." 

Naqvi said he'll be consulting with police departments, their unions and other groups about policing changes in Ontario through the winter and spring before introducing new legislation at Queen's Park.