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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Police shouldn't be investigating themselves: Ontario ombudsman

January 14, 2009
The Globe and Mail

WINNIPEG — All provinces should follow the lead of Ontario and Manitoba and establish a civilian unit to hold police to account or risk more internal investigations marred by favouritism, Ontario's ombudsman said Wednesday.

Andre Marin just completed an investigation into Ontario's special investigations unit and is advising Manitoba on the creation of a similar body. He said police show bias when they investigate one of their own and Canadians deserve better.

“Police should not be investigating other police when there is serious injury or death,” said Mr. Marin, who once headed Ontario's special investigations unit. “When they do so, inevitably the investigations will suffer from favouritism and bring into question the results of those investigations. “The public will never be satisfied.”

Alberta will only allow civilians to observe investigations involving police while officers remain “in the driver's seat,” Mr. Marin said. Despite questionable investigations into police shootings in Quebec and British Columbia, both provinces defend the status quo, he added.

Police in Manitoba have come under fire for their botched investigation into a fatal traffic collision involving an off-duty Winnipeg constable. A public inquiry was called after Crystal Taman died in February 2005 when her car was rear-ended by the officer at a red light. Derek Harvey-Zenk, who had been drinking that night, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and was given two years of house arrest. An inquiry concluded the investigation into Ms. Taman's death was “riddled with incompetence” and recommended Manitoba set up an independent body to conduct similar probes into police conduct.

Police who investigate themselves often give officers months before asking for a statement because they “need time” to recover from the trauma, Mr. Marin said. The same courtesy is not extended to civilian witnesses, who are immediately segregated and questioned.

He pointed to the passengers on board a Greyhound bus on which a young man was decapitated last summer.

Although police say civilians aren't equipped with the necessary investigation skills, Marin said that is a self-serving argument. It doesn't take a genius — or a police officer — to probe alleged wrongdoing by police, he said.

“You don't have a mass murderer on the loose,” Mr. Marin said. “It's a question of whether there was legal justification for causing serious injury or death.”

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