Late yesterday, Canadian Police Association (CPA) President Tom Stamatakis issued a response to commentary from former SIU Director Ian Scott regarding Bill 175 that appeared on thestar.com
on January 31st. The text of that response is shown below.
Your Board of Directors is in complete agreement with President Stamatakis' comments and we continue to work in conjunction with other police associations to advocate for changes to this proposed legislation.
Police oversight bill needs significant improvement
As police associations have suggested, the simple solution is to split the oversight bill, quickly adopting the common sense elements to address immediate concerns, but to take the time necessary to get the more complex areas right. The public deserves nothing less.
Former SIU Director Ian Scott continues a disturbing trend where he attempts to paint police associations as opponents to reform, particularly with respect to police oversight, as he makes his case for the Province to quickly adopt Bill 175.
The fact of the matter is that Bill 175 has a number of very positive reforms that the Wynne government should absolutely pursue. It may surprise Scott to learn that even associations believe the province has struck a reasonable balance on issues such as suspension without pay for officers charged with serious criminal offences that were not committed during the course of their duties, as well as increased training for municipal police services boards, to allow them to more effectively pursue their mandate.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that by introducing a single, sweeping omnibus Bill, there are a number of serious issues that must be addressed, only some of which are directly related to the proposed new oversight regime.
Bill 175 will also make it easier for police services to dismiss officers who seek treatment for serious physical and mental health problems. This raises a number of significant red flags, particularly as research indicates first responders are four times more likely to screen positive for serious mental health challenges than members of the general public. We’ve made significant strides in increased awareness for these issues, and to try to end the stigma that prevents officers from seeking help when they need it, but this legislation threatens to undermine those efforts.
The proposed legislation also opens the door for private, for-profit police to begin operating within the Province. If adopted, the very real possibility exists that even key policing functions such as surveillance, explosives disposal, or even K9 handlers could be outsourced to private enterprises, without any guarantees of oversight or accountability for the public.
Of course, the very public focus of Bill 175 has been on the need for a reformed oversight regime. We should be clear, independent and effective oversight of police functions is absolutely necessary for police services to build and maintain the trust they have with their communities. Police officers are endowed with extraordinary powers necessary to exercise their duties, and I have yet to meet a police officer across Canada who doesn’t recognize the need for those powers to be subject to rigorous oversight.
That being said, there is also no other profession in this country that is subject to the same level of oversight as police officers, and Scott should recognize that the only way oversight can be effective is if it has the trust of both the public, who should be confident officers are held accountable by an independent investigation of their actions, as well as the officers themselves, who must believe they will be treated fairly and in a manner that is as expeditious as possible under the circumstances.
This is where Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit has fallen short, as Scott will be keenly aware from his past tenure as a Director of the organization. While SIU is able to boast of closure rates within 30 business days in the majority of their investigations, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The majority of those closures are done by memo, which basically means SIU acknowledges they shouldn’t even have been called in the first place.
Thorough investigations undertaken by SIU often stretch past 18 months, even in cases as ridiculous as a recent Windsor investigation, where SIU themselves acknowledged the officer acted in heroic fashion to save the life of a man who had locked himself in a garage and set fire to his building.
Eighteen months to eventually determine the officer acted appropriately in the course of his duties is simply too long, and if Bill 175 is passed, as-is, with a massively increased mandate for SIU, these delays will only get worse, which will certainly lead to a deterioration in public confidence, something we should take efforts to avoid at all costs.
Associations aren’t opposed to reform, but rushing an omnibus Bill that makes the most significant changes to the Police Services Act we’ve seen in almost 30 years is the wrong move.
As police associations have suggested, the simple solution is to split the bill, quickly adopting the common sense elements to address immediate concerns, but to take the time necessary to get the more complex areas right. The public deserves nothing less.
President Rob Jamieson and the Board of Directors
Ontario Provincial Police Association