Police Accountability: A Review of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit

Posted: January 28, 2015 by gurpreetkoonar10 in Uncategorized

The Special Investigations Unit, also known as SIU, has been at the head of civilian oversight for police agencies in Ontario since 1990. The SIU’s mission is to raise public confidence in the police by ensuring that police cases involving misconduct are thoroughly reviewed (http://www.siu.on.ca/en/unit.php). Incidents across Ontario are investigated by the SIU and their “…jurisdiction is over all municipal, regional and provincial police officers.” The unit’s jurisdiction in Ontario oversees 57 police services with approximately 28 000 officers (http://www.siu.on.ca/en/what_we_do.php).

The mandate of the unit to investigate police is focused on incidents which involve serious injuries or offences such as sex assault and cases involving police where a death has occurred (The SIU: What we do, 2010). The Unit is an agency of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario and maintains a close relationship with the government of Ontario. However, the investigations and the decisions of the unit are made are independent of the government to ensure impartiality (The SIU: The Unit, 2010)

The structure of the SIU consists of 85 staff members who are managed by a director (http://www.siu.on.ca/en/org_chart.php). The primary roles of the investigators at SIU are to conduct investigations in an administrative role (The SIU: Organizational Chart, 2010). Much of the investigative experience comes from jobs, such as “national security and intelligence, immigration, the legal profession, workplace health and safety, and professional regulation” (The SIU: Organization Chart, 2010).

“The mandate of the SIU is to maintain confidence in Ontario’s police services …” by ensuring that civilian oversight of police incidents involving serious injury or death are investigated fully to ensure public confidence in the police (The SIU: What We Do, 2010). Circumstances where these situations occur, they are required to be reported to the SIU by the police agency or the individual involved. The main objective of the investigations done by the SIU is to establish if there is evidence that the police have committed a crime (The SIU: What We Do, 2010).

The SIU has the legal authority to investigate the actions of police officers and determine if their actions are criminal in nature (http://www.siu.on.ca/en/index.php). The SIU’s has the power to investigate police under section 113(5) of the Police Services Act which states that “The Director may…cause investigations to be conducted into the circumstances of serious injuries and deaths that may have resulted from criminal offences committed by police officers” (http://www.siu.on.ca/en/investigate_what.php). The focus of the investigations involve “…those [injuries] that are likely to interfere with the health or comfort of the victim and are more than merely transient or trifling in nature…” (The SIU; What We Can Investigate, 2010). These may include injuries such as broken bones, burns, losing a limb, suffering from vision or hearing impairment or also includes a complaint of sexual assault (The SIU: What We Can Investigate, 2010).

“The SIU is an arm’s length agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault” (http://www.siu.on.ca/en/news_template.php?print=y&nrid=2102). The organization is an oversight body to ensure the police are held accountable, while maintaining their distance from the police agencies they are investigating. It is good for the public but one may assume that police agencies may feel that their investigations are being interfered with when these people come and take over a crime scene. However, this agency is required to maintain public confidence in the police.

The SIU has been around since 1990 and one can assume that the public reputation is quite high. This is due to the fact that it is an independent civilian agency that oversees police actions to ensure there has not been any misconduct or crime. Over the years the public’s concern has grown about the “integrity of the process in which police officers investigated other police officers” which led to the development of the SIU; therefore, instilling a sense of confidence in the public that police will be overseen (http://www.siu.on.ca/en/faq.php?print=y).

The SIU does need a few changes in order to progress to the next level to ensure quality of investigations (Scott, 2013). A necessary thing that should be required is that every officer should be wearing a camera to record interactions with the citizens. Such video technology is already being used in cellblocks and vehicles, and it would be beneficial for the public and the police if the officers wore cameras on their person; this would ensure that there are no misconceptions about an event that results in injury or death involving a police officer (Scott, 2013). A major event where video technology helped out was during the Toronto G20 Riot where Adam Nobody was violently arrested (Scott, 2013). Another recommendation, as reported by Scott (2013), is that police officers must be less reliant on lawyers, and should be able to submit raw notes of the event in question when the SIU is investigating (Scott, 2013, Independent police notes). Scott (2013) argues that when police are overly reliant on lawyers when submitting their notes, it may cause doubt in the investigation and family members may feel that the notes may not be accurate (Scott, 2013). Notes are critical when trying to understand what occurred during the incident and when they are written independently they more accurate and reliable (Scott, 2013). The SIU being part of the ministry of Attorney General does not make it independent of the government (Scott, 2013). On that account, the agency should become independent from the influence of police and community groups, and should make the SIU director accountable to the legislature (Scott, 2013). The SIU deserves this independence being that it has been a trust worthy and proven agency for several years (Scott, 2013). If these changes discussed were actually applied, the SIU would be a fully independent agency, with the changes necessary to ensure complete impartiality when conducting investigations. Therefore, it will increase the public’s confidence in police accountability and the whole concept of policing (Scott, 2013).

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References

 The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario. (2014). SIU Concludes Peterborough Vehicle Injuries Investigation: Case number: 14-PVI-106. Retrieved from: http://www.siu.on.ca/en/news_template.php?print=y&nrid=2102

Scott, I. (2013, October 10). Ways to improve Ontario’s SIU. The Star, retrieved from: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/10/10/ways_to_improve_ontarios_siu.html

Paikin, S. (2013, September 25). SIU Director Ian Scott on Police Oversight in a Smartphone Era [Youtube Video: Figure 1]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvfto07nYA0

The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario. (2010). The Unit. Retrieved from: http://www.siu.on.ca/en/unit.php

The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario. (2010). What We Do. Retrieved from: http://www.siu.on.ca/en/what_we_do.php

The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario. (2010). The Organization Chart. Retrieved from: http://www.siu.on.ca/en/org_chart.php

The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario. (2010). Homepage. Retrieved from: http://www.siu.on.ca/en/index.php

The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario. (2010). What We Can Investigate. Retrieved from: http://www.siu.on.ca/en/investigate_what.php

The Special Investigations Unit of Ontario. Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from: http://www.siu.on.ca/en/faq.php?print=y

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Comments
  1. Mike Larsen says:

    This is an interesting post. You do a good job of referring to SIU materials.

    You mention that “The SIU has been around since 1990 and one can assume that the public reputation is quite high.”. Can we assume this? If we didn’t want to make assumptions, what could we do to investigate this claim?

    It is interesting to see that the Director of the SIU is one of the voices calling for the use of police body cameras. Perhaps this is something that you can explore in another blog post.

    Question: Consider our working definition of accountability (a relationship characterized by the obligation to inform, the requirement to justify actions or inactions, and the capacity to impose sanctions in case of wrongdoing). Does the tendency of Ontario police organizations to rely on lawyers and withhold certain information when dealing with the SIU undercut the ‘obligation to inform’ aspect of their accountability relationship?

    If I could make one recommendation for future research and writing projects, it would be to ensure that your work is informed by a diversity of sources. In this case, you have done a great job of drawing on official SIU documents and commentary from SIU Director Ian Scott, but sources with less direct attachment to the SIU might have different perspectives to share.