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How the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act Would Improve Public Safety by Treating Police Fairly and Enhancing Oversight

Backgrounder

How the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act Would Improve Public Safety by Treating Police Fairly and Enhancing Oversight

The previous government's policing legislation (formerly known as Bill 175) would have made it tougher for police to do their jobs. That's why the Government for the People is introducing a bill that, if passed, would repeal and replace the Police Services Act, 2018 and the Ontario Special Investigations Unit Act, 2018. The bill would also repeal the Policing Oversight Act, 2018 and the Ontario Policing Discipline Tribunal Act, 2018.

If passed, the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act, 2019 would strengthen the trust between police and the public - which is essential for effective policing - by treating police with fairness and respect, enhancing oversight, and improving governance, training, and transparency.

Enhanced Police Oversight

A robust oversight system is not anti-police. In fact, police will be the first to say that public trust is essential for them to do their jobs effectively. Unfortunately, the existing system, compounded by the previous government's legislation, weakened the public's trust in police because it is confusing, plagued by delays, unaccountable, and seemingly based on a presumption the police are always in the wrong.

The new police oversight legislation would respond to Justice Tulloch's recommendations in the Report of the Independent Police Oversight Review.

The proposed legislation would transform the Office of the Independent Police Review Director into an improved and enhanced body, the Law Enforcement Complaints Agency (LECA). Its responsibilities would include:

  • Receiving and screening public complaints involving police officers, special constables employed by the Niagara Parks Commission, peace officers employed by the Legislative Protective Service, and forwarding complaints about members of a board (e.g., municipal or First Nations) to the Inspector General.
  • Assigning complaints for investigation relating to police officers, Niagara Parks Commission special constables, and peace officers employed in the Legislative Protective Service to a police service (of the officer or alternate) or an agency investigator.
  • Requiring investigative entities (e.g., chief of police) to explain delays in the completion of an investigation after 120 days and every 30 days thereafter.

The proposed legislation would also strengthen the independence and focus the mandate of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU):

  • Establishing the SIU as a provincial agency accountable to the Attorney General in a new, separate statute.
  • Making "officials" subject to SIU investigation. An "official" would include a police officer, a special constable employed by the Niagara Parks Commission, and a peace officer with the Legislative Protective Service.
  • Assigning a "designated authority" for officials for purposes of the Act. A "designated authority" would be a police chief, in relation to police officers; a "designated authority" for other officials would be set out by regulation.
  • Maintaining mandatory notification of the SIU under specified circumstances, for example, where there is serious injury or death and there was use of force by an official; where the specified circumstances are not met, only requiring notification if the designated authority reasonably believes that the official's actions may have been a contributing factor in the serious injury or death. This would ensure that where there is no significant risk that police action constituted criminal conduct (e.g. police arriving on scene after a suicide), incidents would not be investigated. This would speed up the investigative process.
  • Clarifying and making transparent the SIU's existing ability to make preliminary inquiries in order to determine early on whether an investigation is required.
  • Removing the ability of the SIU to investigate civilians who may have been involved, in concert with an official, in criminal conduct resulting in an incident, which was provided for in Bill 175. Police would still be able to investigate in such situations, allowing the SIU to concentrate on its core mandate.
  • Removing the ability of the SIU to investigate criminal conduct of policing officials that do not fall within its mandate, which was provided for in Bill 175.
  • Requiring the SIU to explain delays every 30 days past the 120 day mark of an on-going investigation.

The proposed legislation would also strengthen the role of the Inspector General (IG) of Policing.

The proposed legislation would establish the role of the IG within the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to monitor, inspect, and ensure compliance with the act and its regulations. It would also ensure the delivery of adequate and effective policing. It also empowers the IG to receive and review policy/service complaints.

The IG would also be enabled to impose remedies for board members' misconduct and non-compliance with the Community Safety and Policing Act, 2019 rather than assigning this function to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

The proposed legislation would also clarify the right of the IG and inspectors to access closed police service board meetings.

The IG would be required to forward the investigative report regarding a board member's misconduct to the entity responsible for the appointment of the board member. The IG would serve a term of five years, with the possibility of a one-term renewal of five years.

Treat Police with Fairness and Respect

Imagine phoning 911 and rather than having a police officer respond, a private company showed up at your door. Many Ontarians had this concern with the previous government's legislation.

Under the previous government's legislation, some policing functions could be outsourced. This led to concerns that a private contractor - not a police officer - would respond to a call for service.

The proposed legislation will stipulate that policing functions that meet the following two standards must be provided by members of a police service:

  1. The policing function is either (i) law enforcement, (ii) emergency response, or (iii) maintaining the public peace; and
  2. The function requires the exercise of the powers of a peace officer or a police officer.

This would give the public confidence that core policing functions would always be performed by a trained professional who is subject to policing legislation and oversight.

Better Governance, Training, and Transparency

The proposed legislation aims to improve training and make decision-making more transparent, by:

  • Mandating the human rights, systemic racism, diversity and Indigenous training for new police officers, new special constables, and Police Service Board members. This is an early response to Justice Tulloch's training recommendations presented in his report titled, Report of the Independent Street Checks Review.
  • Requiring police service board members to successfully complete basic training on roles and responsibilities before exercising powers and performing duties.
  • Mandating public consultations for Lieutenant Governor in Council regulations made under the new policing and police oversight legislation.

The government is also introducing changes to the Coroners Act to enhance public safety and improve service delivery. These include:

  • Requiring that all items seized as part of a coroner's death investigation be offered for safekeeping to a member of a police service to ensure that seized items are kept in the most secure location possible.
  • Creating a new investigative screening provision to allow coroners to have access to information, including medical records, to help ensure that decisions to investigate deaths are based on a complete picture of the deceased's health history.
  • Clarifying that the chief coroner has the authority to conduct historical death reviews (i.e., reviews that may include data/findings from completed coroner's investigations). Retrospective analysis of deaths over time can identify common factors and trends that could help to prevent further deaths and improve the health and safety of Ontarians.
  • Removing the requirement for regional coroners to be a resident in the area named in their appointment. This change would help the Office of the Chief Coroner recruit suitable candidates and ensure effective services across the province.

A number of provisions which were passed last year would carry forward unchanged. These include:

  • First Nations policing provisions laid out in the Police Services Act, 2018, would be adopted providing First Nations communities with greater choice in how their policing services are delivered.
  • The amendments to the Police Services Act (1990) - the current legislation - that add new community safety and well-being planning provisions in statute and came into force on January 1, 2019, would continue to be in force with a new provision requiring the participation of the local police service in the development of the plan.
  • The Missing Persons Act, 2018, and Forensic Laboratories Act, 2018, and the majority of the previous amendments to the Coroners Act would remain as passed in the Safer Ontario Act, 2018.

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