SOC Editor: "I wouldn't agree with forced participation [by police officers in police miscoduct investigations] in any shape or form," Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey said. " ... It would be against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms." So in other words, he asserts that police have the right to not participate in investigations by police watchdogs. I think most people would agree that police must be held to the same standard as everyone else, and nobody has the right to withdraw from criminal investigations. Bailey argues that the danger of police officers' jobs make them an exception, but we know that statistically police officers' duties are not very dangerous at all. Ontario's public has lost faith in our police, and the government organizations that oversee them like the SIU. Policies that give impunity to officers only accelerate this distrust.
Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey disagrees with an academic's claim in The Observer that police officers should be compelled to participate in investigations by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit as a job prerequisite.
Bailey said University of Toronto police accountability researcher Scot Wortley's opinion is off-base and police officer rights must be respected.
"I wouldn't agree with forced participation in any shape or form," he said. " ... It would be against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."
Wortley argues that because police officers have the ability to incarcerate and use lethal force they should be subject to extraordinary oversight.
But he also told The Observer changes to the Police Services Act are unlikely because politicians are afraid of tangling with Ontario's powerful police unions.
Bailey said it's more about backing up officers who put their lives on the line everyday.
"The police have a tough job to do," he said. "We need to do everything we can do as a society to give them rules and laws they can obey and enforce."
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Maria Van Bommel said she wouldn't be afraid to speak up on policing issues if it was warranted. Police unions have never tried to pressure her in an inappropriate manner, she said.
"They do lobby, just like other organizations and professions. I've never felt they were ever more overly representative of their issues than other groups."
The legitimacy SIU investigations was questioned locally after the police watchdog exonerated a Lambton OPP of wrongdoing in connection with the death of a Sarnia man without actually interviewing the officer. The family was outraged.
Bailey said the SIU must strike a difficult balance between the rights of officers to due process and the rights of a family to the truth.
"I understand families want answers. On the other hand, the police are out there every day, they're paid to protect us."
In a report to Attorney General Chris Bentley this week, former Chief Justice Patrick LeSage makes several recommendations to eliminate communication barriers between officers, the SIU and chiefs of police.
Subject and witness police officers in an SIU investigation have the right to counsel, but they shouldn't use the same attorney, he said.
"There has been a suspicion that if the same lawyer acts for more than one witness officer that that lawyer has the right to communicate what he hears from one witness officer to the other witness officer," LeSage said. "It is my view that very clearly the lawyer cannot do that."
Ontario should also make it clear to lawyers representing several witness officers that their notes shouldn't be shared with each other, he said.
Bentley said his government will implement all of LeSage's recommendations, which follow several cases in which the SIU came into conflict with chiefs and officers.
NDP Justice Critic Peter Kormos said LeSage's mandate was to mediate areas of agreement between the police associations and chiefs of police.
"The big outstanding issue, though, and the elephant in the room, is the issue of a police officer's duty to participate or co-operate in a SIU investigation," Kormos said. "Clearly, there wasn't common ground in that area."
With files from QMI Agency.