By MPP Toby Barrett
Every day our police do incredible work to keep our families safe. Often, this work is silent, preventative and unseen. Sometimes it requires police to put themselves in harm’s way and make difficult life-or-death decisions in the blink of an eye. But no matter what, we can count on our police for protection.
I’d like to take this opportunity to express my support for law enforcement as well as reinforce government’s unbending commitment to the health and well-being of our province’s first responders. There is no doubt that the incredible contributions police officers make keep our families, streets and back roads safe.
That being said, imagine being a police officer asked to work in a system that doesn’t trust you. You face automatic investigation for doing your job, including trying to save a life. Special Investigations Unit (SIU) investigations hang over you for months on end. You’re not entitled to a fair hearing when facing discipline; fairness is not even a principle of the system. The present system is opaque, convoluted and lacks transparency.
It is a system that serves no one. It makes the jobs of police officers, police chiefs and police services board more complicated. And it makes people feel less safe, less secure and further removed from their police. It drives a wedge between the police and the public.
Bill 68, titled the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act and also known as COPS, was introduced by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. It reflects our government’s unwavering commitment to restoring the confidence of the brave women and men in uniform who keep our cities, towns and rural areas safe.
This proposed legislation is based on a clear principle – our police deserve respect. We cannot continue to employ legislation that erodes trust and confidence in our officers. One of the most important improvements Bill 68 makes is to streamline and strengthen the SIU process. A concern we have heard over and over from both families and police is that the SIU wastes time and energy investigating the wrong things. These investigations take too long and drain valuable resources that could be focused on stopping actual criminal activity.
Presently, if a police officer tries to stop a suicide attempt but is unsuccessful, he or she is treated like a suspect. If an officer is on the scene when someone suffers a heart attack, they are treated like a suspect even if there was no contact between the police and the victim. If a police officer responds to a violent crime and tries to perform CPR but is unable to save the life, he or she is treated like a suspect. This is not what the SIU should be investigating.
This proposed legislation would also recognize there needs to be a clear route for filing public complaints against public law enforcement and commencing an independent investigation if necessary. The Law Enforcement Complaints Agency (LECA), continued from the existing Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), is designed to fill this need.
From better focusing the SIU to developing legislation that bolsters accountability and trust, our government promises to keep Ontario safe. Bill 68 is designed to rebuild the confidence of citizens and improve the police oversight system that will ultimately help build safer communities on a shared foundation of restored trust and accountability.
Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk