TORONTO — Ontario is expected to announce sweeping changes to its policing laws today that include strengthening oversight of the system and making it possible to suspend officers without pay, The Canadian Press has learned.
The changes would include the first update to the Police Services Act in more than 25 years.
A source says the government will be implementing all of the recommendations contained in Appeal Court Justice Michael Tulloch’s report on police oversight, released earlier this year.
The SIU is called on to investigate any time someone is killed or injured in an incident involving police.
An Inspector General would be established to oversee police services, with the power to investigate and audit them.
Three civilian agencies charged with police oversight already exist — the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. Unlike the SIU and OIPRD, a source says the Inspector General would not investigate individual police misconduct.
Those three current oversight bodies would also get expanded mandates, such as requiring the SIU to report publicly on all of its investigations.
As well, the SIU would have to be called when an officer fires at a person and would be able to file more charges on its own. It currently only investigates police-involved death, serious injury and sexual assault allegations.
Local police boards would also be created for the Ontario Provincial Police, similar to the structure of municipal police services boards — which will be required to undergo more training, such as on diversity. The new act would also allow First Nations police forces to establish their own police services boards.
An amended Coroners Act would require coroner’s inquests when police kill through use of force, one of Tulloch’s key recommendations.
The government’s stated approach is to share the burden of community safety with municipalities. They will be required to implement community safety plans, such as identifying a need for more addiction and mental health programs, aiming to prevent problems before police get involved.
The new act will for the first time clearly define police responsibilities as those that can only be performed by an officer, sources say, which could leave some duties such as directing traffic to special constables.
Two new pieces of legislation would allow police to track a cellphone and search a home in missing persons cases — something they can only do now when a crime is suspected — as well as making accreditation and oversight of forensic labs mandatory.
Police chiefs have been calling for a decade for the power to withhold pay from suspended officers, and parameters to do so will be set out in the legislation. Ontario is the only province in which chiefs can’t revoke the pay of suspended officers, who collect millions of dollars each year.
Under the current law, suspended officers have to be paid even when convicted of an offence, unless they are sentenced to prison.
The new legislation proposes to allow suspensions without pay when an officer is in custody or when they are charged with a serious federal offence that wasn’t allegedly committed in the course of their duties.
Legislation would also update the police discipline process more broadly, including giving a tribunal the power to revoke an officer’s license.
The new Police Services Act and the other new and updated acts are being bundled together as the Safer Ontario Act.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press