Strengthening Police Oversight and Providing Tools for Missing Persons Cases

Ontario is overhauling its policing laws with changes to police duties and strengthened oversight rules meant to address concerns from minority groups of unjust treatment and inadequate investigations into police misconduct. The changes are long overdue, said Julian Falconer, a lawyer who has represented families of people killed by police, The Globe and Mail reports.

“This has been an open sore,” Falconer said. Police chiefs across Ontario have complained that the public often could not understand why the law stopped them from suspending an officer without pay. The outrage was compounded when a few suspended officers retired after years of collecting pay. Falconer commented further saying the changes will stop officers “who play the system.”

The 417-page bill, called the Safer Ontario Act, would define what duties officers should concentrate on and which should be handed over to civilian employees, allow police chiefs to suspend an officer without pay who has committed a serious crime outside of duty and put increased scrutiny on the actions of officers and police forces.

The act will also create local police boards for the Ontario Provincial Police and allow First Nations police forces to create their own police services boards. The Coroners Act would be revamped to require a coroner’s inquest when a police officer kills a person through the use of force.

A new Missing Persons Act would allow police to track cellphones or search homes, which they can do now only when a crime is suspected. Forensic labs would also need to get accreditation under a new standalone piece of legislation, reported in The Globe and Mail.

In another article, the National Post reports, that the proposed new powers of the new Missing Persons Act were recommended as part of an inquest into the deaths of seven Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay, Ont. The young people had moved from their remote northern Ontario reserves to the city for high school and all died between 2000 and 2011.

Julian Falconer, who represented Nishnawbe Aski Nation at the inquest, says the new rules will bring needed clarity for police around what they can do in missing persons cases.

“What we’ve learned is police do the darndest things when left to their own devices, so we have to create situations that are bias neutral, that don’t simply (rely) on a police officer’s own life experience and life limitations to have them make discretion calls on which missing people are important and which aren’t, which warrant their attention and which don’t,” he said.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said police need to be able to jump into action when people are missing. “I’m not just talking about Indigenous youth or children, but when any person goes missing there has to be immediate measures or protocols that kick in to ensure that efforts are made to try to locate the person,” he said. “We all know in these types of cases the first two, three, four hours are very critical and we should not lose any time.”

In the News

Ontario proposes strengthening oversight of police     November 2, 2017, The Globe and Mail

Ontario police to get new tools to search for missing people   November 2, 2017, National Post

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