Court rules independence in investigation of Toronto constable was compromised
TORONTO—Back-channel chats that led Ontario’s police watchdog to set aside its own finding of misconduct against an officer were inappropriate and undermined the integrity of the process, an appeal court has ruled.
In a decision this week, Divisional Court said the Office of the Independent Review Director had compromised its independence and ordered it to reinvestigate a complaint against a Toronto constable from scratch.
“As is emphasized by the name of the decision-maker, the Director of the Office of Independent Police Review was obliged to conduct an independent investigation and reach an independent decision,” the Divisional Court panel said in its ruling. “Here, in circumstances which belie the independence of the OIPRD, the director had undisclosed discussions with the TPS about changing his decision and, ultimately, he did change his decision.”
The case arose in April 2014
when Toronto police searched the Stanley family home based on a tip about the presence of a firearm. None was found. The Stanleys alleged police misconduct, including that Const. Chris Howes had stomped on one of the family member’s head or neck while they were lying handcuffed on the ground. Among other things, they alleged assault, that police deliberately destroyed their property and made racial slurs.
Following an investigation, the independent review director in March 2015 reported finding enough evidence to support an allegation of “serious misconduct” against Howes. The director notified the family and said the file had been passed onto police for disciplinary action.
In response, an inspector with the police service contacted the watchdog via phone and letter to complain about its decision.
Gerry McNeilly, the Independent Police Review Director, has agreed to reopen the investigation against Toronto police constable Chris Howes.