Policing in Ontario faces its biggest reform in a generation

The stage is set for significant changes to the way police operate in Ontario.

Changes to police oversight and governance promised for spring

Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising to introduce reforms to policing in Ontario this spring. The government says the changes will form a 'new blueprint for effective, sustainable and community-based policing.' (CBC)

The stage is set for significant changes to the way police operate in Ontario.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising a bill this spring to modernize the Police Services Act, which hasn't been fundamentally altered for 27 years.

The reforms are expected to touch on nearly every aspect of policing. Duties could be off-loaded from full-fledged officers to special constables or civilians. Changes could come to how police interact with the mentally ill. Investigations into police misconduct and the penalties imposed are up for reform. The training required of officers and the role of local police boards are also being reviewed.

The changes will be rolled into the "Strategy for a Safer Ontario," the government's tag for its "new blueprint for effective, sustainable and community-based policing." The job of spearheading the reforms will fall to Marie-France Lalonde, the newly minted minister of community safety and correctional services.

"I'm confident that we'll be able to bring something in the Legislature this spring, but I want to make sure that we continue our collaboration and consultation," Lalonde told CBC News last week. 

Lalonde has no shortage of advice on her desk trying to influence her decisions. The latest comes from the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards (OAPSB), representing the bodies that oversee municipal police forces and municipally contracted OPP detachments.

In a report released Monday, the association laid out the degree of support among local police boards for 56 reforms. A significant number call for changes aimed at making policing less costly. 

Police officers have long received pay increases that are 'out of whack' with the rest of the public sector, said Fred Kaustinen, executive director of the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

Police officers keep getting pay increases that are "out of whack" with the rest of the public sector, said OAPSB  executive director Fred Kaustinen.

"Labour settlements have been double the cost of inflation on average for a decade and a half," Kaustinen said in an interview on Monday. 

The boards want the province to allow them them to outsource "non-core police duties," such as court security, prisoner transport and crime-scene security. "We should not need a highly paid armed police officer to do all those functions," said Kaustinen.

The association also wants to slow down constables' automatic progression up the pay grades and rein in arbitration decisions that push police wages higher.

One policy proposal gets 100 per cent agreement among the police boards surveyed: giving chiefs the power to suspend officers without pay when they're charged with serious misconduct.

Currently, Ontario law only allows suspension without pay once an officer is sentenced to a jail term. Forces have had to keep some discredited officers on the payroll for years while their appeals dragged on.

"In a few egregious cases, it's been abused royally," said Kaustinen. "It just flies in the face of the integrity and accountability that one expects of police."

Unions reject 'policing for profit' 

The umbrella group of police unions rejects the proposals, particularly around outsourcing 

"Policing for profit is the way I describe it," said Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario, which represents some 18,000 members in 53 forces around the province. 

Chapman and his members also question the push to suspend officers without pay from the time they are charged with misconduct.

"This is a country that has innocence until proven guilty," he said Monday in an interview. "Police officers are subject to a number of vexatious and false complaints because of the duties that we do." 

The government has been consulting on the policing reforms for a year.

Ontario's police chiefs want greater power to suspend officers without pay for misconduct. Currently, provincial law allows suspension without pay only when an officer is sentenced to a jail term. (Olivier Plante/Radio-Canada)

"The issues faced by police officers and the communities they serve are more complex than ever anticipated when the current Police Services Act and policing framework were developed in 1990," wrote Yasir Naqvi, the minister at the time the consultations began in February 2016. 

"A police officer should not, at the same time, need to be a social worker, mental health worker or youth counsellor — but these are the roles we often call on them to fill."

Separately, a judge is reviewing all of the province's police oversight agencies:  the Special Investigations Unit, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. His recommendations are due to be handed to the government by the end of March.