Thursday, 20 April 2017

Justice Tulloch Releases Review of Civilian Police Oversight Bodies in Ontario

By Neil Armstrong

Justice Michael Tulloch, Independent Reviewer, who recently released The Report of the Independent Police Oversight Review, is seen here with the Vice-Chancellor's Award he received at the University of the West Indies Toronto Benefit Gala at The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto on April 1, 2017.   Photo credit: Eddie Grant

Jamaica-born Ontario Court of Appeal judge, Justice Michael Tulloch, has publicly released his ‘Report of the Independent Police Oversight Review’ and has organized presentations of his report to community and policing stakeholders in five cities in the province.

On Tuesday (April 11), he did so at Ryerson University; was in Ottawa at the Ottawa Conference & Event Centre on Wednesday (April 12); and in Windsor on April 18. Today (April 20) he will be in Thunder Bay and in Hamilton on April 24.

On April 29, 2016, he was asked by the Government of Ontario to conduct an independent review of the civilian oversight bodies for police in Ontario -- the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC).

This followed public demonstrations of dissatisfaction with policing and police oversight, Justice Tulloch noted in the executive summary of his report.

The 263-page report containing 129 recommendations was delivered to the Attorney General Yasir Naqvi on March 31 and released publicly on April 6.

The SIU investigates police-civilian interactions that result in serious injury or death to a civilian, the OIPRD oversees public complaints about the police in Ontario, and the OCPC primarily adjudicates appeals of police disciplinary hearings, among other things.

“Police oversight, the police, and the communities they serve are inextricably intertwined. Therefore, understanding police oversight requires understanding the police as well as the communities they serve.”

Justice Tulloch noted that the relationship between the police and the communities they serve is at times very complex.

“This relationship must be situated within its historical context in our modern, pluralistic society. For some communities, particularly Black and Indigenous communities, historical realities have led to a distrust of the police, a distrust that sometimes extends to the oversight bodies themselves.”

He said modern policing is founded on public trust and “that trust is tested when the police cause a civilian’s death or serious injury, or behave in a manner that is seen to fall below the professional standards expected of them.”

Among the recommendations is that the civilian oversight bodies should have their own legislation, separate from the Police Services Act, that former police officers should not be excluded from working as investigators at either the SIU or OIPRD, and ensuring that the oversight bodies better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

On the matter of transparent and accountable criminal investigations, Justice Tulloch said public accountability is a crucial function of the SIU. 

“For the public to have confidence in policing and police oversight, justice must not only e done, but also be seen to be done. That means investigations must be effective and impartial. It also means that members of the public must be able to carefully examine a decision not to charge to assure themselves that the investigation was effective and impartial.”

Regarding the release of names, he says, “a subject officer’s name should be released in the same circumstances that the name of a civilian under investigation would be released. That is, at the end of an investigation, it should be released if the officer is charged.”

He noted that, in his opinion, releasing an officer’s name at the end of an investigation when that officer has not been charged would do little to advance the SIU’s objectives.

Justice Tulloch also recommends that the SIU report to the public on every investigation, although the content of that reporting would depend on the nature of the investigation.

He has also recommended the release of past SIU reports where no charges were laid.

As part of his mandate, Justice Tulloch was asked whether the police oversight bodies in Ontario should collect demographic data.

He thinks they should and that the data they collect should include gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity, mental health status, disability, and Indigenous status.

“Data collection offers many benefits. It supports evidence-based public policy and decision-making, promotes accountability and transparency, and, if used properly, may build public confidence in policing and police oversight,” he says.

Justice Tulloch has been a judge on the Court of Appeal for Ontario since 2012 following nine years on the Superior Court of Justice. He was an Assistant Crown Attorney in both Peel and Toronto. 

[This story appears in the NA Weekly Gleaner, April 20-26, 2017 issue.]

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