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Ontario to change oversight of police who administer naloxone

Last Updated Apr 10, 2018 at 12:18 pm EDT

Changes are coming to oversight for police officers when they administer lifesaving agents like naloxone.

The Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed to CityNews it is now writing the new regulation and hopes to have it in place by this summer.

This comes after the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) announced a second investigation into a Peel Regional Police officer in as many weeks.

Peel police responded to a call for medical assistance at a building near Derry Road East and Rexwood Drive around 11:30 p.m. Thursday. When they arrived, officers found a 45-year-old man in medical distress and performed CPR on him. They also administered naloxone.

Paramedics pronounced the man dead at the scene shortly after midnight.

This is the second time the SIU has invoked its mandate after someone died after police gave them naloxone. The first was in March involving the death of a 36-year-old Brampton man.

In both cases, officers arrived and found a man in medical distress. In both cases they attempted CPR and gave the men naloxone — and they later died.

CityNews has learned as many as six Peel police officers are now under investigation by the SIU.

The head of the Peel Regional Police Association said the SIU should never have been involved.

“I think it’s just the frustration,” Adrian Woolley said. “It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. They’re going to act professional and administer the naloxone properly and effectively, but then if things don’t go well, because he/she doesn’t survive, they’re going to be under investigation.  There is a lot of mental stress on the officers when they’re under investigation.”

In Vancouver, police officers started carrying naloxone in 2016 to deal with the fentanyl crisis, and later that year laws were changed and officers there were no longer subject to investigation by the police watchdog.

Premier Kathleen Wynne promised something similar after the first SIU investigation was announced on March 14.

“It’s unreasonable for officers to be under investigation, when they’re just administering lifesaving techniques,” said Woolley. “First responders are not under the same scrutiny that we are. We understand (that there is oversight) and accept it. But this I think goes above and beyond…”

The newly passed Safer Ontario Act included an amendment to allow the government to create regulations to exempt officers from investigation who provide “immediate medical care.” That passed on March 8.  Both cases happened afterwards.

“It is not in anyone’s interest—the public, the police or the SIU—for there to be a lengthy or needless investigation when a death or serious injury was not caused by an officer’s conduct, but simply coincided with an officer providing first aid or administering naloxone,” the Ministry of the Attorney General said in a statement.

“As part of the government’s recently passed Safer Ontario Act, 2017, the legislation would allow the SIU Director not to investigate a narrow set of cases where a police officer administers first aid but has no further interaction with the individual.”

“Police will still be required to notify the OSIU of incidents where officers are present and there is a death or serious injury, however the regulation will allow these situations to be dealt with more efficiently.”

The practice of the SIU investigating deaths involving police administration of naloxone was met with resistance from the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police in January. OACP President Bryan Larkin wrote a letter addressed to the SIU, suggesting that police forces should not have to inform the agency of deaths or serious injuries if officers’ only interaction with the person was to administer naloxone.

He expressed concern that the threat of a lengthy inquiry might discourage officers from administering naloxone altogether and asked the SIU to stop investigating cases of serious injury or death involving officers administering the opioid-blocking drug.

The agency — which investigates reports involving police where there has been death or serious injury — rejected the request. SIU Director Tony Loparco responded to Larkin saying that the SIU “fully expects chiefs of police to abide by their legal obligations and immediately notify this office of these types of incidents.”

While not all reports of naloxone-related incidents will lead to full investigations, it is up to the SIU to decide how to handle each case, he said.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify what type of medication naloxone is.