Polic­ing takes ‘a large step for­ward’

Prov­ince passes bill to re­write decades-old Po­lice Act

StarMetro Toronto - - Toronto -

Po­lice watch­dogs will be stronger and more trans­par­ent, po­lice chiefs will have greater pow­ers to sus­pend of­fi­cers with­out pay, and the pub­lic com­plaints sys­tem will be­come more in­de­pen­dent after the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s om­nibus po­lice bill was passed at Queen’s Park Thurs­day.

The hefty leg­is­la­tion rewrites the prov­ince’s decades-old Po­lice Act, en­act­ing sig­nif­i­cant changes to po­lice ser­vices, their boards and civil­ian po­lice agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tions Unit (SIU) — re­forms con­sid­ered long over­due by po­lice crit­ics, aca­demics, and po­lice ser­vices alike.

Hailed as “a frame­work of mod­ern polic­ing in the 21st cen­tury” by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Yasir Naqvi, the bill’s pas­sage came after fevered de­bate in­side Queen’s Park, with Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive mem­bers vot­ing against the bill after echo­ing the con­cerns from po­lice as­so­ci­a­tions that the changes opened the door to the “pri­va­ti­za­tion” of polic­ing ser­vices.

But the leg­is­la­tion was dubbed as “a large step for­ward” by civil­ian over­sight ex­perts, pre­dom­i­nantly those changes that acted on rec­om­men­da­tions brought for­ward by On­tario Court of Ap­peal Jus­tice Michael Tul­loch fol­low­ing a re­view of civil­ian watch­dogs. Tul­loch rec­om­mended the SIU be granted greater pow­ers to probe po­lice — in­clud­ing the abil­ity to lay any crim­i­nal charge un­cov­ered dur­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and to pe­nal­ize po­lice of­fi­cers who fail to co-op­er­ate with its probes, in­clud­ing up to a year in jail.

The On­tario As­so­ci­a­tion of Po­lice Ser­vices Boards lauded that the leg­is­la­tion gives po­lice chiefs the power to sus­pend with­out pay of­fi­cers ac­cused of “the most se­ri­ous crimes, some­thing chiefs can do in ev­ery other prov­ince.”

The as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Fred Kausti­nen also sup­ports the move to de­fine the core func­tion of po­lice of­fi­cers — namely, cod­i­fy­ing what work must be done by a highly paid, sworn po­lice of­fi­cer.

The change would al­low po­lice ser­vices boards to con­tract out cer­tain po­lice-re­lated tasks that can be done by a se­cu­rity guard or civil­ian.

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