Premier Doug Ford puts new police oversight laws on hold
July 4, 2018
Saying sweeping reforms brought in by the Liberal government “hurt policing efforts,” Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government postponed the implementation of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit Act --one day before the law strengthening police oversight was to come into effect.
In a letter sent to Ontario police associations Friday, the premier said the new law --which grants the province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, greater powers and establishes its own act --would not come into force over the weekend, as planned.
The SIU Act was just one piece of proposed new legislation coming out of Bill 175, and was the first scheduled to come into effect. It responded in part to recommendations from a sweeping police oversight review by Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch.
Instead, Ford said the government would conduct “a full and thorough review of the legislation” by consulting experts, police services and the public.
“This action is just the first step toward delivering on our promise to fix policing legislation,” Ford said in the letter, sent to the Toronto Police Association, the Police Association of Ontario and the Ontario Provincial Police Association.
“We believe that the previous government’s Bill 175 hurts policing efforts in the province and undermines confidence in the police,” he said. “Law-abiding people in this province should never feel unsafe when dealing with the people who protect us. And Ontario’s hard-working police officers deserve to be treated with respect.”
Ford’s letter did not detail what mechanism the government used to delay the impending new act, which was supposed to come into force on June 30 by proclamation of the lieutenant-governor.
Hailed as historic and long overdue when it was passed earlier this year, Bill 175, also known as the Safer Ontario Act, was the Liberal government’s omnibus legislation overhauling policing. That included enhancing the transparency and accountability of investigations into police-involved deaths, serious injuries and more.
The SIU Act was just one piece of proposed new legislation coming out of Bill 175, and was the first scheduled to come into effect. It responded in part to recommendations from a sweeping police oversight review by Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch, which involved extensive, province-wide consultation.
“It’s regrettable that this government is not implementing the fruits of both the Tulloch report and Bill 175, after all the work that was done on it,” said Ian Scott, a Toronto lawyer and former director of the SIU.
Tulloch was not available for comment Tuesday. Tony Loparco, director of the SIU, said in an emailed statement that the SIU “will abide by whatever legislation is in place.”
“Regardless of what the legislation is, I can assure you that we will act in the best interest of the citizens of Ontario by ensuring that our investigations continue to be defined by independence, impartiality and professionalism,” Loparco said.
The new SIU legislation acted on several key recommendations from Tulloch’s report, including that the watchdog be given the ability to lay any criminal charge uncovered during an investigation. It also gave the watchdog the power to impose penalties on police officers who fail to co-operate with investigations --granting it the ability to fine an officer $25,000 or more or face a year in jail after, for example, failing to notify the SIU when a member of the public was seriously injured in a police encounter.
The new SIU would also have expanded the watchdog’s powers to launch investigations not only into current police officers, but in certain circumstances former officers, special constables working privately and members of First Nations police services.
Some proposed changes received strong pushback from police associations, including concerns about non-cooperation penalties affecting officers. In a statement sent to its members over the weekend, the Ontario Provincial Police Association explained that police associations have been working to engage Ford’s government on “a number of issues including those surrounding Bill 175.”
“It quickly became clear that Premier Ford was very interested in our perspective,” the letter says.
Bruce Chapman, Police Association of Ontario president, said in an interview Tuesday that there was a broad perception that the SIU legislation was rushed through and flawed. He stressed that police associations “have no issues with transparency or accountability” but have serious concerns with the prospect of large fines for officers alleged to have failed to comply with the SIU.
He argues these penalties are not in line with other, equivalent professional fines, for example, affecting doctors or nurses.
“We support this because I think this was rushed,” Chapman said, noting other parts of the Safer Ontario legislation, including proposed changes to the decades-old Police Services Act, don’t come into effect until at least next year.
Major changes to policing are contained in that new legislation, too --including a provision granting police chiefs greater ability to suspend officers without pay, as well as clearly defining the role of a police officer. The latter is intended to establish parameters around the core responsibilities of police, and define work that may be better suited to non-police personnel, resulting in significant cost savings.
It’s not yet clear what changes the Ford government will make to other parts of Bill 175. His letter notes his government was going to “work closely with the people who know their communities best to find ways to cut crime and keep Ontarians safe.”