Toronto

Ontario government slammed for undermining police watchdog

Ontario's ombudsman says the government has "actively undermined" its independent police watchdog despite his calls to strengthen the Special Investigations Unit with legislation.

Ontario's ombudsman says the government has "actively undermined" its independent police watchdog despite his calls to strengthen the Special Investigations Unit with legislation.

The SIU investigates when police kill or seriously injure a civilian on duty.

In a report released Wednesday, Andre Marin says government officials "systematically" discouraged the SIU director from speaking out about unco-operative police officers and dismissed concerns about the vetting of police notes by lawyers.

He says the Ministry of the Attorney General also suppressed an internal SIU report that raised similar concerns, calling it "provocative" and not "useful."

Marin released another report in 2008 on the SIU that found the civilian body lacked resources, failed to conduct rigorous and transparent investigations and suffered from a perceived pro-police bias.

This time his criticisms are mainly directed at police and the government.

Marin said police forces often wait too long before notifying the SIU of an incident. In other cases, Marin said the SIU is never notified, something he calls "disturbing."

Officers often fail to co-operate

He also said police officers either obstructed or failed to co-operate with the SIU in more than one-third of its cases in the past three years.

Marin wants the government to make it an offence for police officers to fail to co-operate.

He recommended that legislation be enacted to support the watchdog, which the government and the SIU welcomed at the time.

"When I launched this investigation, I discovered that the ministry really had no intention of acting on my most important recommendations," Marin said Wednesday.

SIU director Ian Scott said 25 of the 46 recommendations called for in the ombudsman’s 2008 report "were addressed directly" by the SIU.

"As with any organization, there is always room for improvement," Scott said in a release. "We took the ombudsman’s recommendations seriously and feel that today, the SIU is even better at serving the needs of the public."

Attorney General John Gerretsen said he's seen the report and is concerned about the allegations but so far won't commit to any changes.

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