Building Stronger, Safer Communities
The province is introducing the Safer Ontario Act, 2017, a comprehensive public safety legislative package that, if passed, would represent the largest policing transformation in a generation.
If passed, the proposed bill would repeal and replace Ontario's Police Services Act, 1990, amend the Coroners Act, 1990, and create, for the first time, a Missing Persons Act, 2017, and a Forensic Laboratories Act, 2017. In addition, two new acts would be created to enhance police oversight in Ontario, including the Policing Oversight Act, 2017, and the Ontario Policing Discipline Tribunal Act, 2017.
Police Services Act, 2017 and associated police oversight legislation
The proposed legislation would modernize Ontario's current policing framework and focus on improvements in four areas:
Shifting to a Collaborative Approach to Community Safety and Well-being Planning
Community safety and well-being planning requires collaboration between multiple partners. Municipalities would be mandated to develop and implement community safety and well-being plans. Police services boards would be mandated to participate in the planning led by municipalities, and would align their strategic plans with the broader community safety and well-being plan.
By promoting collaborative partnerships between municipalities, police, and other sectors, those in need will receive the right response, at the right time, and by the right service provider. It would also improve interactions between police and vulnerable Ontarians by enhancing front-line responses to those in crisis. For example, in some communities mental health and addictions may be identified as a local risk and communities can work together to implement preventative programs and strategies to address this risk before police response is necessary.
Enhancing Police Accountability to the Public
Numerous recommendations from independent reports, most recently from Justice Tulloch's Independent Police Oversight Review, have called for strengthened police oversight and accountability.
Proposed changes to the Police Services Act, 2017, would respond directly to these recommendations to ensure there is continued public trust in Ontario's police services.
Proposed changes include:
- Establishing an Inspector General to oversee and monitor police services and police services boards in the public interest. The Inspector General would be provided with a mandate to ensure the delivery of adequate and effective policing while also having the power to receive and review complaints, including complaints against police services boards, board members and chiefs of police.
- Strengthening civilian governance for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) by creating local OPP Boards, which would operate in a way that is consistent with municipal police services boards elsewhere in Ontario.
- Clarifying the role of the minister in relation to the OPP.
- Enhancing the capacity of police services boards by requiring all board members to complete training, including diversity training, within a prescribed timeframe; strengthening reporting requirements for boards, increasing the minimum and maximum board size based on local needs; and expanding the list of circumstances prohibiting individuals to become board members to ensure the integrity of civilian governance.
The proposed changes would make police services and their boards more representative of and accountable to the communities they serve.
Outlining Police Responsibilitiesand Community Safety Service Delivery
The new legislation would outline police responsibilities and ensure Ontario's highly trained police officers focus on community safety issues where their training and abilities are most needed.
Proposed changes include:
- Setting clear parameters that outline police responsibilities and that identify where it may be appropriate to use non-police personnel.
- Ensuring consistent education, training and standards for all police services and special constables for a consistent approach to policing across the province.
- Overhauling the police disciplinary process, including setting new rules for suspension without pay. The changes would broaden the circumstances for suspension without pay for when a police officer is:
- In custody or under judicial conditions that prevent them from performing the usual duties of a police officer
- Charged with a serious federal offence that was not committed in the performance of the officer's duties (i.e. failure to suspend the officer without pay would discredit the reputation of the police service.)
- Modernizing the special constable program so that the duties of special constables are professionalized and clearly differentiated from that of police officers.
- The ministry will also create a Public Safety Institute as a centre of excellence to inform the delivery of police services, support evidence-based decision making, and conduct leading edge research.
These changes would update policing practices and resources so police services are consistent across Ontario.
Ensuring Sustainability of First Nations Policing
The new Police Services Act, 2017, would offer two models that enable First Nations to choose whether they want to establish their own police services boards, which would meet the same provincial standards as those governing other police services in the province.
The plan would ensure that police services provided by First Nations police services boards:
- Meet provincial policing standards for quality and effectiveness in areas such as service delivery, training, equipment, civilian governance and oversight
- Are culturally responsive and appropriate by requiring engagement with First Nations communities in the development of the police service board's strategic plan, and engagement with First Nations leadership regarding cultural traditions when developing board policies
- Are subject to the same oversight as the rest of police services in Ontario.
First Nations Communities may also choose to continue with their current policing framework.
Forensic Laboratories Act, 2017
The new Forensic Laboratories Act, 2017, would make accreditation mandatory for forensic laboratories operating in Ontario. The legislation would enhance the oversight of forensic laboratories in Ontario to improve accountability and transparency of forensic testing through a multi-faceted oversight framework. Accreditation would ensure a system of quality management for forensic laboratories that includes proficiency testing, annual audits, performance reports, surveillance visits, management reviews and a code of conduct.
The new legislation would also provide an opportunity to establish an independent advisory committee to build knowledge and leverage the expertise of key forensic science, justice sector, social services and child protection professionals. This committee would advise the minister on elements of the provincial oversight framework - including identifying recommendations related to standards and oversight requirements, research and best practices as well as education and training in the field of forensic sciences.
Coroners Act, 2017
Proposed changes to the Coroner's Act would require that inquests be mandatory when a police officer, special constable or other officer's use of force is the direct cause of a death. Currently, this type of inquest is held at the discretion of the Chief Coroner. The recommendations generated by inquests enhance public safety and help prevent similar deaths in the future.
Proposed legislative changes would also allow the Chief Coroner to hire new coroners directly through a standard recruitment process and expand eligibility to include lawyers and current and retired judges to preside over inquests instead of just medical doctors for procedurally and legally complex cases. Currently, coroners can only be appointed by an Order in Council.
Earlier this year, the government established a program to provide funding for legal costs to ensure families whose loved ones died in a police-related event can be represented at the inquest.
The proposed updates address recommendations made by Justice Tulloch in his Independent Police Oversight Review as well as recommendations from Ontario's Chief Coroner.
Missing Persons Act, 2017
The Missing Persons Act, 2017, would allow police to respond more quickly and effectively to missing persons investigations.
Currently, when there is no evidence a crime has been committed, police cannot obtain a judicial order to allow access to certain information and search powers that may assist in locating a missing person. The proposed legislation would allow police to apply for judicial orders to access records in certain circumstances, that could assist in locating a missing person, such as information about travel or telephone and other electronic communications, or to authorize entry into a premises to search for a missing person when that would assist in ensuring the safety of the person.
The act would balance public safety and privacy by requiring, for example, that the location of a missing person not be disclosed without seeking the consent of that person.
In addition, enhanced training in the areas of cultural competency and serving vulnerable individuals would help ensure police have the right tools to respond effectively and sensitively to missing persons.
The new legislation was recommended as part of the inquest into the deaths of seven Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay and was one of the commitments in the Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women.