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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Report found no bias, SIU boss says

October 28, 2008
Robyn Doolittle, Toronto Star

The newly minted boss of the province's Special Investigations Unit says after examining a recent report into the agency, he does not believe the SIU is biased towards police.

Ian Scott points to a section of the Ontario Ombudsman's probe of the SIU.

"Quote: 'During our investigation, we were unable to find any objective evidence that any individual case had been tainted by improper motives,' " he said.

"The way I read it is that (Ombudsman André Marin is) saying when you really drill down and look at the evidence, look at the briefs, there's nothing that he can point to that says there's any pro-police bias."

But, contacted last night, Marin says Scott is reading it wrong. The purpose of the probe was not to reinvestigate closed cases, he said.

"As such, we were not looking for evidence of improper motives or police bias in the ultimate decision to charge or not charge the police. Nor did we find any," said Marin.

"What we did find, however, were investigations conducted with a pro-police bias. The report is abundant with examples. ... The SIU is not the impartial investigator the law mandates it to be, but in a sense, bleeds blue with pro-police bias. That needs to be fixed by the new director."

Among other charges, Marin accused the agency of investigating its cases through "blue-coloured glasses," allowing police to control the probe, and rarely interviewing officers within the mandated 24 hours following an incident.

Since its release, at least one family has contacted Scott, requesting he take a second look at a ruling. Others are planning to do the same in the coming weeks.

Rob Maltar, whose brother James was shot in police custody three years ago, spoke with Scott last week. After an 11-month probe, the SIU found James had shot himself with an officer's gun. Maltar and his family have never believed it.

Scott told him he'd consider reopening any closed case if new "material" evidence was uncovered.

Two weeks ago, the former Crown attorney began his five-year term as director of the SIU, the civilian agency tasked with investigating all cases of serious injury, death, or sexual assault involving police in Ontario.

"I doubt very much when I'm here we're going to see any cold cases (but) if it's new material evidence, then yes," Scott said in an interview with the Star yesterday at SIU headquarters in Mississauga.

For the Maltars, time is running out. The inquest into his brother's death is scheduled for January. Once it begins, there's no chance the case will be re-examined.

"I personally think it's a cowardice way to handle a situation. Telling the family members that they have to come up with evidence for them to reopen the case, meanwhile, they have all the evidence," said Maltar.

Yesterday, sitting in a board room crowded by the SIU's past – dozens of case boxes marked with victims' names – Scott noted that the focus of the Ombudsman's report was to look forward, not backward.

None of Marin's 46 recommendations suggest the SIU should reopen cases, Scott pointed out.

But Marin did highlight problems with response times and delays interviewing witness officers.

"Those are both areas of concern for me," Scott said.

Both will be looked at by the SIU's ombudsman's report response team, an initiative created by outgoing director James Cornish.

Over the next six months, the team will work to address each of the ombudsman's recommendations and prepare a report for Marin regarding progress or an explanation of why changes haven't occurred.

"I think the civilian oversight of policing is an important function of a democratic society," he said. "And what I'm hoping to do here is to foster confidence in civilian oversight of policing and I'm hoping to do that by independent investigators, thorough investigations and impartial investigations."

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