After seven months of public consultations and private meetings, Ontario Justice Michael Tulloch last week released his report on police oversight in the province.
The Independent Police Oversight Review, as the report is titled, calls for greater transparency
of the province’s three police watchdogs – the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Office of the Independent Review Director (OIPRD) and the Ontario Civilian Police Commissioner (OCPC).
It recommends that the SIU which probes all cases of serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault involving police, report publicly on all its investigations and include detailed accounts in cases where no charges are laid against an officer and that there should be a coroner’s inquest into the death of an individual when a police officer’s use of force contributed to it.
It also recommends that the oversight bodies, including the SIU, begin collecting demographic data such as statistics on race, ethnicity and indigenous status and that they (the oversight bodies) reflect the diversity of the communities which they serve.
Since the release of the report which contains 129 recommendations to make police watchdogs more transparent and accountable, the Ontario government has announced that it will publicly release reports in all cases of police using fatal force against civilians.
Ontario’s Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said that by the end of the year, reports from the past decade will be posted on his ministry’s website, unless families of the deceased object.
Future reports by the SIU in cases where an officer’s use of force resulted in the death of an individual, but the officer was not criminally charged, will also be released by the Attorney General.
However, as recommended by Justice Tulloch, only officers who have been criminally charged will be named.
Naqvi also announced plans to collect race-based data from police oversight bodies.
The rest of the recommendations will be reviewed in the coming months and will be implemented in the future, Naqvi said.
The Tulloch review was launched after activist groups demanded an overhaul of the SIU following several deadly encounters between police and black men in Toronto, including the shooting of Andrew Loku.
In July 2015, Loku, a 45-year-old father of five who came to Canada as a refugee from South Sudan in 2004, was shot dead by Toronto police in his apartment building – a residence for individuals living with mental health challenges – after an incident in which he was wielding a small hammer. The SIU determined that no criminal charges against the responsible officer were warranted.
Loku’s death and the officer’s perceived exoneration in the SIU’s “secret” report sparked outrage, including protests by the activist group Black Lives Matter Toronto which camped out for weeks outside of Toronto Police headquarters last spring.
Reacting to public pressure, on April 29, 2016, the Ontario government released a heavily redacted version of the SIU’s report on its investigation of Loku’s death. The same day, the Ontario Cabinet appointed Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Tulloch to lead another review of Ontario’s police oversight regime.
Commenting on the Tulloch report, representatives of Black Lives Matter Toronto praised its recommendations but said more of them need to be implemented now.
“This is really only a first step. There is a lot of work to be done, said Pascale Diverlus.
Kenneth Jeffers, the lone black member of the Toronto Police Services Board and pro-community activist, described the report as ” groundbreaking.”
“I am particularly pleased with the strong statements on transparency as the primary way of building trust and accountability,” Jeffers told the Caribbean Camera.
He pointed out that the Police Services Boards have a major role to play in the implementation of the recommendations of the report.
” So the apparent traditional culture of status quo and the dominant conservative approaches to oversight have to be addressed because there also has to be a major paradigm change in the culture and current practices of all Boards.”
Jeffers said that while he was optimistic about the report, he is yet to see in such reports ” what were the barriers of implementation of former excellent reports and what measures would be now put in place to break this recurring cycle of repetition and sometimes hype.
” The question always remains: Who is guarding the guards?”