Attorney General announces major changes to Ontario's police oversight system

The Doug Ford government is overhauling police oversight in the province with new legislation that makes changes to the Special Investigations Unit, as well as the mechanism through which members of the public make complaints.

PC government poised to dismantle reforms brought in by previous Liberal government

Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney unveiled major changes to the province's police oversight system on Tuesday morning at the headquarters of Halton Regional Police. Mulroney attacked the previous Liberal government, saying its legislation, which the PC government now plans to overturn, was "anti-police." (CBC)

Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government is overhauling police oversight in Ontario, making changes to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), as well as the mechanism through which members of the public make complaints.

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney and Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Sylvia Jones announced the changes at Halton Regional Police headquarters in Oakville, Ont., on Tuesday morning.

The changes are encompassed in new legislation that's yet to be passed: the Comprehensive Police Services Act, 2019. The PCs introduced the legislation at Queen's Park on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill, which will likely be approved due to the PC's majority, aims to streamline the investigative process of the SIU, which probes incidents involving police where a civilian is seriously injured or dies, or makes an allegation of sexual assault.

SIU will be expected to provide conclusions sooner

The changes mean that the SIU will now only investigate police use use-of-force, arrests or motor-vehicle pursuits that result in serious injury or death, when an officer discharges a firearm, or when there is an allegation of sexual assault. 

In all other circumstances, responsibility will lie with chiefs of police and other designated authorities to notify the SIU if they "reasonably believe" than an officer's conduct resulted in the injury or death. Under current rules, officers can be investigated if someone dies of a medical problem or by suicide.

"If a police officer tries to stop a suicide attempt but is unsuccessful, he or she is treated like a suspect ... If a police officer responds to a violent crime, tries to perform CPR but is unable to save the life, he or she is treated like a suspect," Mulroney said Tuesday.

"This is not what the SIU should be doing."

The bill also calls for the SIU to complete investigations within 120 days, or provide an explanation if that benchmark cannot be met. 

Officers are still compelled to co-operate with an investigation, Mulroney said, but fines have been lowered for failure to do so. Under the previous government's legislation, officers could be fined up to $50,000 and face a jail sentence of up to one year. Now, the fine is $5,000 for a first incident, and $10,000 for subsequent ones.

The new legislation would replace the Bill 175, which was introduced by the previous Liberal government. That bill had bolstered the mandates of the province's oversight agencies, including the SIU, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC). 

'Ontarians should know where to turn'

The bill scraps the OCPC and converts the OIPRD into the Law Enforcement Complaints Agency (LECA), which will receive and screen public complaints involving police officers and other law-enforcement officials.

"When there are concerns with policing in this province, Ontarians should know where to turn," Mulroney said.

The new bill also includes mandatory training for all new officers, special constables and police board members across the province on human rights, systemic racism, diversity and Indigenous issues. 

It also ensures that certain calls to police cannot be outsourced to a civilian, as was proposed in the previous government's legislation. 

What it does not address is the issue of carding, or random street checks by police based on race.

Jones said Tuesday the PCs do not support police stops based on race, and have no plans to allow for carding in the province.

Past government's legislation was 'anti-police,' Mulroney says

The attorney general attacked Liberals for introducing legislation that was "anti-police" and treated officers as "potential offenders."

"Police officers are everyday heroes in our communities," Mulroney told reporters.

Last summer, the PC government halted the implementation of the Liberals' Bill 175, which had been passed by the legislature in the spring. The bill included some of the most significant changes to Ontario's Police Services Act in more than 25 years, and increased the scope of what the SIU, OIPRD and OCPC could investigate.

The reforms, as are some of the changes proposed by the PCs, largely came out of a report by Justice Michael Tulloch, who was tasked with making recommendations for strengthening police oversight.

The newly-proposed bill does carry over the provision in Bill 175 that gave chiefs of police the power to suspend officers without pay in some circumstances. 

More from Queen's Park:

With files from Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press

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