Policing takes ‘a large step forward’
Province passes bill to rewrite decades-old Police Act
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.