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Friday, June 29, 2007

Ombudsman to probe SIU

June 7, 2007
CBC News

I was very disappointed to learn that Ontario's Special Investigations Unit has itself become the subject of an investigation into allegations of incompetence and bias. According to its website, the SIU is committed to promoting and maintaining community confidence in Ontario’s police services through highly professional and independent investigations. Many, including my family, Cameron Ward and Vancouver's Pivot Legal Society, have upheld this Ontario "bulwark of democracy" model as a replacement for British Columbia's system of police investigating police.

"Ontario's ombudsman will investigate allegations the province's agency that probes civilian deaths and serious injuries involving police was incompetent and biased. André Marin said there has been a "troubling increase" in the number of complaints to the ombudsman's office about the Special Investigations Unit, an independent civilian agency that probes police actions. "The SIU is a bulwark of democracy in Ontario," said Andre Marin. "It's where the buck stops in police accountability when there is death or serious injury. Given the nature of these complaints, I believe it warrants further investigation.""

In response, James Cornish, Director of the SIU, said "Ontarians have every reason to expect that the SIU operates with complete integrity and meets excellent investigative standards. As a world leader in civilian oversight of police, the SIU is committed to carrying out thorough and unbiased investigations to ensure police accountability, thus safeguarding public confidence in our police. I have confidence in the professionalism of the men and women of this Unit and that the Ombudsman will conduct an impartial and professional investigation. We intend to cooperate and look forward to receiving his report."

A newsletter I receive from the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition had this to say: "Members of TPAC met recently with Ombudsman staff to discuss the SIU. TPAC's experience is that SIU seems to be part of the policing hierarchy rather than representing an outside citizen-based voice on policing matters. The SIU provides the appearance of accountability without the substance, and functions as another line of defense for the police. TPAC fears that the focus of the investigation is narrow when what is needed is something which begins to tackle the question of police accountability to the community at large. Without the presence of a general sense of police accountability, it is difficult for any police complaints mechanism to function well."

The report is expected to be available in November.

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