Activists, politicians and those in the legal community are voicing major concerns over the new provincial government’s policing plan.
The public got a sense of the direction Doug Ford is hoping to move in after the Throne Speech.
At issue are two key lines: “You can count on the government to respect the men and women of Ontario’s police services- by freeing them of the onerous restrictions that treat those in uniform as subjects of suspicion and scorn,” a vague nod to the government’s decision to “press pause” on a massive overhaul of the Special Investigations Unit, which is the police watchdog.
“If you’re a young black man in Scarborough, you will not be well-treated by this government from the looks of this particular Throne Speech, ” NDP leader Andrea Horwath said immediately afterwards on Thursday.
“We are very concerned about the loss of progress we’ve made in terms of police oversight. I think it’s clear that people understand and respect the important role that police play in our society, but we saw in the Throne Speech what looks like a move to a different type of policing,” Horwath explained further on Friday.
“We’ve had a community-based policing model in Ontario that’s focused on keeping the peace on community safety on partnerships with community stakeholders and neighbourhoods and what Mr. Ford appears of be moving towards is a law-and-order model which is worrisome.”
After years of consultation, the Liberals had drafted and passed new legislation overseeing those that oversee the police.
An Inspector General would be established to oversee police services, with the power to investigate and audit them.
The Ontario’s ombudsman would be able to investigate complaints against the police oversight bodies, and police would be compelled to hand over their notes and provide statements to investigators or face jail time and fines up to $50,000. That’s all on hold now.
“Onerous restrictions? I’m not really sure, whether they think these are bothersome laws that they should follow as well as enforce?…heavily scrutinized? I think that police officers who are paid to obey the laws and serve and protect should be heavily scrutinized,” activist Joanne MacIssac told CityNews.
MacIssac’s brother – Michael – was killed by police in 2013. The family believes he was suffering from a seizure when he ran from his home on to the street, naked.
Police say he was armed with a table leg. They shot him and while the SIU did investigate, it did not lay criminal charges against the officers involved.
“A stronger SIU could’ve helped it. A more competent SIU certainly would’ve,” MacIssac said. “They lost the table leg. At the inquest, we were told the evidence was accidentally disposed, ” she said. “They couldn’t even tell us the trajectory of the bullets, I think the establishment is weak.”
She says the SIU needs to be more accountable to the public, something the new law was intended to do.
We asked the Ministry of the Attorney General what the language choice means for the SIU and if the government plans on reintroducing new legislation surrounding the police oversight bodies.
In an email statement, a spokesperson writes:
“Our government has pressed pause on implementing the Ontario Special Investigations Unit Act to take the time to conduct a full and through review of the legislation and consult with experts, police services and the public. As such, the SIU’s mandate and responsibilities under the Police Services Act remain unchanged at this time.”
Community activist Andray Domise says the language Ford’s government chose for the Throne Speech was divisive.
“He was a premier that said he would represent the people. If his government is for the people, whose people are they talking about? Are you talking about police officers? Because if you’re elected to represent police officers you should just say so. Because if you’re elected to represent the people of Ontario, that includes black and brown people too,” Domise said.
Former Attorney General Michael Bryant echoes those views.
“My concern with the approach that’s been put in the throne speech is its going to actually increase the divide between the policing community and the broader community because it would suggest that you need to take sides, ” he told CityNews.
The SIU declined comment.
CityNews also reached out to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, but have not heard back yet.